DreamWorks Animation has once again come up with a riff on an existing theme that is more entertaining than its predecessors. In this case, it’s the tale of a family of cavemen who are forced to deal with an incredible amount of change in in an inordinate hurry.
Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) is the teenage daughter and narrator of The Croods. She is, naturally enough, the bane of her father, Grug’s (Nicolas Cage) existence because she asks questions and tries to explore – which he figures is just too dangerous.
Under his (lack of) leadership, the family – also including momma Ugga (Catherine Keener), son Thunk (Clark Duke), Gran (Cloris Leachman) and baby Sandy (Randy Thom) – stays in their cave except when it’s time to hunt for food, and even then, Grug’s motto is ‘Never not be afraid!’ Eep’s curiosity drives him nuts.
On one of the few times Eep is able to get out of her dad’s range of vision, she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who is smart, funny, adventurous and (obviously) not a caveman – and his animal friend Belt (Chris Sanders). Guy is impressed; Eep is impressed. Grug? Not so much.
Even when Guy tells them their world is ending (‘I call it THE END,’ he declares with understated grandeur) and stuff starts quaking, Grug would rather retreat to the family cave – until the quakes destroy it. Then, grudgingly, he decides that the family will have to find another cave and they set out.
Though the basic ideas are not particularly new (change can good; family is important), The Croods makes up for that with some incredibly inventive visuals and by giving its caveman family and the slightly more evolved Guy modern sensibilities.
For all that Grug is this hulking, physically strong guy, he’s best by all kinds of neuroses – constantly worrying about keeping his family safe in a dangerous world, for a start. Cage brings a weariness to the part that contrasts with Grug’s physicality (think the Incredible Hulk as played by Woody Allen – only without the stammering).
Ugga is a loving mom and supportive wife, but you can see that she’s just a bit envious of Eep’s attitude. Thunk is the least intelligent member of the family (which is saying something), but he’s more concerned with making his dad proud than anything else. Gran is the caveman version of the stereotypical mother-in-law, and maybe the running gag with her and Grug goes on a bit too long, but there’s a reason for it. Guy and Eep are pretty much the prototypical teen lovers – though their relationship isn’t built in anything approaching a familiar manner.
Also worthy of note: The Croods gives us a teenaged female lead character who doesn’t look like a twig with arms and legs. Seriously, kudos for that!
The world of the Croods is one with all kinds of dangers – many that don’t appear so at first. Some are kind of familiar (giant cats, for example), but many don’t seem to have any relationship to our prehistory. Most are beautifully conceived and executed – as are the film’s various environments (from deserts and mountains to gorgeously lush jungles).
There is a good mix of various types of humor, ranging from the silly and/or slapstick to the situational, character-based. Sometimes the film goes right to the very edge before pulling back a hair, or moving into the highly dramatic. The mix becomes understandable when the credits roll and we realise that the original story was written by screenwriters Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco and Monty Python’s John Cleese.
The final script and direction by Sanders and De Micco is sleek, fast-paced and imaginative. They make extremely good use of 3D – both to add depth to their unique world and to toss stuff at the audience. In the end, The Croods is a film that transcends its (small) flaws to become an experience. It is not an understatement to say that it’s the first A+ movie of 2013.
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Stills courtesy of DreamWorks Animation