(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on March 22, 2013.)
Of late, I noticed that our video collection is skewing more to the DreamWorks side of animated movies instead of Disney/Pixar. That’s not a slight against any other animation houses – it’s just that my 2-year-old seems to like Puss in Boots and How to Train Your Dragon more than others. To be fair, we’ve run Wreck-It Ralph and Cars by her, but she seems to like the other two better. So it’s no surprise that I took her to a screening of DreamWorks’ The Croods on an early Saturday morning, and what did she have to say about it? “I liked it.” And you know what? I liked it an awful lot, too.
I think my personal enjoyment may have to do with the fact that the DreamWorks movies are a little darker than those of Disney/Pixar; in Puss in Boots, there’s a glossed-over suicide, while a main character has to deal with an amputated appendage in How to Train Your Dragon. The Croods doesn’t shy away from the scarier parts of the prehistoric era (wild animals, dark spaces) as a Neanderthal family copes with daily life. The film is mishmash of tried-and-true cinematic tropes, but it’s still kept fresh and engaging, and it also contains Nicolas Cage in an honest-to-gosh good movie! Granted, we only hear his voice, but he seems to be having fun playing Neanderthal patriarch Grug. He and his family – feisty mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman), stalwart wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), awkward son Thunk (Clark Duke), feral baby Sandy (Randy Thom), and rebellious teenager Eep (Emma Stone) – live a very sheltered life at Grug’s insistence, which includes staying away from anything potentially harmful and instilling a huge fear of anything “new.” However, two new things are about to come into their lives: homo sapien Guy (Ryan Reynolds), and the continental drift, which Guy is frantically trying to escape.
The drift, as told to us by Guy, is going to make the world end as they know it; there’s gonna be lots of earth-shaking, hot lava, and total destruction of their habitat. Unless the family heads out for another living space, they’re going to get caught in it and never be heard from again, so they follow Guy on his quest for “Tomorrow” – a place “with a thousand suns” and with enough resources for everyone to live. Along the way, Guy introduces them to new things like fire, shoes, and signal horns, which soon makes Grug’s notions of “everything will kill you” and overprotection irrelevant; this leads to a lot of butting heads and ill-conceived jealousy, even with a long way to go to their destination. Can they make it to the mountains without Grug killing Guy in a fit of rage or Gran taking a fall down a crevasse?
The Croods relies on well-worn humor, such as jokes about the stupidity of cavemen, the husband’s hatred of his mother-in-law, a teenaged daughter going out with a boy for the first time, and other staples of comedy films and television shows. However, with the fast-paced dialogue and the spectacle of 3D, it somehow doesn’t matter that these jokes are old, and I think that’s due to the comedy of all these jokes coming from a caveman family. “We had to deal with it before, and we’re still dealing with it now,” the film seems to say, and that makes it funny all over again. But there’s a charm that this film has when dealing with people who may not be technologically or intellectually advanced as Guy is; they’re not treated as complete idiots, with the sympathetic Guy taking time to help and explain how things work, even if it results in someone’s teeth (or Guy himself) getting knocked out.
There’s not really a mean bone in this movie’s body, and that kind of leads to the film’s one downfall: the ending. It feels like a little bit of a cop-out, as if no one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings; truth be told, if the film ended where I thought it was going to end, it’d be actually pretty perfect. Instead, we get an almost Return of the King-like ending after ending after ending which wraps up in a fairly saccharine way. Don’t get me wrong – the idea behind the ending goes along with everything the film teaches; it’s just that it ruins the heavily emotional moment that took so much time to set up and execute. Aside from that, there’s not a whole lot wrong with The Croods. The 3D effect can be fun at times (which may lead to a few scary moments for younger viewers), but for the most part, it’ll probably be just as good in 2D. Whichever version you watch, The Croods will be a fun time at the movies for you.