Since the dawn of computer generated animation, Dreamworks has always been the late night snack to the three course meals of Pixar and Disney. Sure, it knows what you want and it gives that to you in heaping portions, but it’ll never have the substance or impact of the full steak and potatoes entree of Up or The Lion King. Still, there’s a certain something to be said for the kind of accessible dumb fun the studio brings to the table, and between How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda and the Madagascar trilogy the studio seems to be finding it’s voice. With Pixar in decline, it might just be that Dreamworks could ride it’s recent momentum back into its Shrek glory days. That being said, The Croods doesn’t do much to add to that momentum. The Croods will be loved by its target audience, but an over-reliance on slapstick humor along with a very formulaic plot prevent the movie from rising above simple family fun.
The world’s very first prehistoric family goes on a road trip to an uncharted and fantastical world.
On the one hand, the plot is predictable and full of clichés. On the other hand, it keeps things moving at a brisk pace and doesn’t get in the way of the sort of family friendly bits that people came to see.
There is a pretty noticeable shift in who occupies the role of the main character in The Croods at around the halfway mark. For the first half, Emma stone fills that role as Eep, the young and restless teenage daughter of the not-so-modern Stone Age family. Between the ways they played up her Neanderthalish side with her obsession with Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and the understandable frustration she has with her family’s xenophobic way of life, I actually liked Eep for the most part. It definitely helped that Stone’s voice melts in with the character very well.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was that Nicholas Cage’s voice is nearly as unobtrusive as Stone’s is. Taking the part of the change-fearing father of the group and the second half’s protagonist, Grug’s bull-headed attempts to keep his family in the cave gives way to a much more satisfying arc in which he embodies one half of the battle of brain vs. brawn. In the corner of brains we have Guy (Ryan Reynolds), the more evolved stranger that steals Eep’s heart and curiosity before assuming the task of leading her family to safety. Guy is pretty uninteresting for the most part, though his sloth-like companion Belt is one of the funniest and most adorable parts of the entire movie.
When it comes to family-friendly entertainment, it’s the writing which really separates the men from the boys. The best of the best in this category, your Pixars, your Disneys, consistently manage to strike a chord between the silliness and simplicity of child appeasement and the sweetness and emotional depth of a truly great movie. Sure, Pixar and Disney aren’t above the occasional low-ball jokes or slapstick gags, but the reason they are on top is that they surround that easy comedy with stories and characters that challenge you to not fall in love with them. This is why, while I do try to go into movies like this with a certain level of appreciation for what the target audience is looking for, that simple appreciation will never bring my opinion of a film above a “okay” level.
It’s at this okay level that The Croods takes its place. Nearly every single thing it does is aimed at younger audiences, from pratfalls to exaggerated animal characteristics (i.e. the baby) to repeated family sports metaphors. If you have kids, they will love it and you yourself will probably gain a few chuckles along the way. If you’re about the age of 12, however, there’s just not a hell of a lot here that’s intended for you. The best you can do is to try to find your inner child and let him free for the 93 minutes you’ll be in the theater. I’m told drugs might also help…
The score rapidly shifts between tropical sounding scene-transition music and cartoonish chase-sequence backing. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to learn how to play a Marimba or Chase a tiny mouse with a comically large ACME hammer
I know nobody gives a crap, but every single creature they bring up here is literally the simple combination of one existing animal with another. We have Owl Cats, Saber Tooth parrots, Elephant Mice, the list goes on and on. For all of its flaws, at least the Ice Age movies had my respect for the accuracy of every single wee beastie on screen. It’s as if the creators just got tired and said “Screw it, let’s just flip through an animal encyclopedia at random and mix some shit up. You, you’re a Skunkodile, you’re a Whale-nocerous, and you’re a… let’s just keep this guy a straight up sloth so he can feel superior to all of the other ungodly hybrids we’ve just breathed digital life into.
The animators for this movies are starting to get some incredibly impressive skills built up. Specifically look for anything that involves smoke or an explosion here, the realism is insane
The Verdict: 6.5/10 – Perfectly Adequate
+ Stone and Cage are perfectly passable leads
+ The pace is quick and focused
– The Comedy is almost entirely geared towards kids so expect a lot of slapstick
– The abundance of clichés will give you major animation deja-vu
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.0/10
The Focused Filmographer: 3.5/5
Fast Film Reviews: 3/5
Three Rows Back: “An Entertaining Diversion”