At the end of the age of cavemen, one little family known as the Croods still inhabits their once fruitful land. Led by Grug (Nicolas Cage), the family’s patriarch whose extreme caution keeps them safely locked away in their cave, they have carved out a place for themselves when most other cavemen have become extinct. But Eep (Emma Stone), the oldest of Grug’s children, has a strong desire to see the unknown and one night this curiosity gets the best of her, leading to a fateful encounter with Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a more evolved human with big ideas. Guy implores the Croods to head for high ground before the earthquakes that have been ripping the land apart get to them and when their cave is destroyed, the family embarks on a journey that will truly take them into a brave new world. For me, most DreamWorks animated features find a place in the proverbial same boat: they’re usually acceptable, harmless family films that don’t bore but rarely excite and stay far away from the ambitious, inspired work of Pixar (and the better Disney films). Most of the time, I watch the movie with relatively few complaints, give said movie a “B” or “B-“, and then immediately forget it. (See: Puss in Boots, Monsters vs. Aliens, the Madagascar sequels, etc.) To be honest with you, dear reader, I expected this feeling to be the best case scenario for The Croods. A mid-March DreamWorks cartoon with somewhat unattractive characters with a voice cast led by Nicolas Cage…not really something I would usually hang my hat on. But rather than the typical ho-hum fare I expected, I was treated to a much smarter, much more enjoyable animated romp than I could have ever imagined.
First of all, let me comment on the stunning visuals that dominate the majority of The Croods. While the characters themselves are (purposefully) a bit less than aesthetically pleasing (they are cavemen after all), the world surrounding the Crood family is beautiful and filled with incredibly vibrant colors. The flora and fauna created for this film are imaginative and unique, which only adds to the gorgeous landscape that serves as the background. As an ardent opponent to the 3D movement, The Croods stands as one of the very few films that actually made me wish I would have sought out a 3D showing. Even in 2D, however, the colors jump off the screen and the contrast between the Croods and their surroundings is a notable bonus.
In addition to the visuals, however, the talent of the voice cast is not only substantial but also very well utilized. To say that this is Cage’s best performance in a decade or so seems a bit absurd but if truth be told, it probably is. When you’re not staring into the man’s creepy eyes or focusing in on his receding hairline, Cage’s presence works quite well in this role. Stone and Reynolds mesh quite well together (Reynolds steals the show more often than not) and the additional voices added by Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, and Clark Duncan all hit their respective marks. In short, this feels like an actual cast of actors working together rather than the assemblage of voices that seems to the DreamWorks M.O.
Perhaps the best aspect of The Croods is the sheer simplicity of the narrative. Some reviews I’ve seen have pointed to this simplicity as a negative but in my opinion, it serves the film quite well. There are only one or two themes in play here (it mostly boils down to the family dynamic, especially the father-daughter relationship, and the struggle to survive) and as such, the movie stays ever on its course, never straying from the path and allowing for a full immersion in the world, just like the Croods themselves. From the opening credits on, The Croods has a vintage feel to it that carries over to the very end. I felt like I was watching an old school Disney movie heightened by relevant animation pushed forward by a gloriously subtle score that adds a playful tone to the entire affair. There are hearty laughs, emotionally impactful moments, and a few remarkably gorgeous scenes, all of which makes The Croods one of the better animated films of the last few years.
The Croods Directors: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds Rated: PG (some dramatic themes, one utterance of the word “sucky” but otherwise completely clean) Recommended For: Families with kids of pretty much any age