I have never been too big of a DreamWorks Animation fan. I mean sure, I liked Shrek and Over the Hedge, and even Shark Tale. However, I did not like the rest of the films in the Shrek series, I hated Chicken Run, and I despised Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar. After watching the abysmal trailer for The Croods, I feared that this may be among their worst.
I was wrong.
The Croods, directed by Chris Sanders of Lilo and Stitch fame and Kirk DeMicco, director of Space Chimps, is a surprisingly heartfelt film that was great fun to watch. The plot of the film revolves around a few cavemen (and women) that fear most everything due to potential death. When Earth’s continents start moving away from each other (it makes sense, I promise), they are forced to leave their cave to go to the jungle with a new found friend, the relatively civilized Guy.
One of the things that makes this much more interesting you may expect is the character named Eep, voiced by Emma Stone. I ask you reader, when was the last time you can remember in an animated film where the main character is a female, that is not a princess of any sort? It may just be late where I live, but I cannot think of a single one. Some critics have compared this film to last year’s Brave because of this, but typically in a negative way. Is the animation worse than Brave’s? Yes, yes it is; the animators over at Pixar are remarkably talented. In every other thinkable aspect of filmmaking, The Croods is far superior. While both tackle the themes of family, The Croods does so without turning Eep into an annoying brat, but rather a socially awkward, believable, likable, teenage girl.
Another interesting thing that this film does is that it makes the characters the same types one would find in a contemporary sit-com, and throws them into the pre-historic world. There is the obese younger brother, Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke from Greek, Hot Tub Time Machine, and Kick-Ass). He may not be the brightest bulb in the tool shed (I am not the best at metaphors), but he is rather kind and sweet. Gran (Cloris Leachman), is, surprisingly enough, the grandmother of Eep. She is the mother of Ugga (Catherine Keener, Maxine from Being John Malkovich), who in turn is the mother of Eep. Ugga’s husband is Grug, the overprotective father figure one so often sees in entertainment nowadays. Nicolas Cage’s voice acting was quite good in it, never going over the top, which he easily could have done. Finally, Eep’s new ‘boyfriend,’ Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is new-age, knowledgeable about technology, all that jazz.
Not everything was great though. Some of the animation was rough, certain scenes drag, and parts of the ending were somewhat of a cop-out. When I say the animation is rough, I mean for this day and age, it should have been a little better than it was. I recognize that no company will make any animation as fresh as Pixar’s, but one can hope! A running fault so far in 2013 seems to be films with scenes that go on a minute or two longer than they should. Is that not the fault of the viewer/critic? No, it is not. As a general rule, in animated films such as this one, scenes should make its point quickly to keep the youngling interested. Generally The Croods did this, but there were a few exceptions, most notably one near the middle where the family ate some animal.
(Note: Some spoilers below.)
The bit at the end that irked me? Grug essentially sacrifices himself to save his family, finally accepting Guy, and all receive the closure they deserve. What happened? After some shtick, Grug finds the wildebeest-cat hybrid that has been following his family around, and manages to fly back to his family. Cue cute animal scene, cue family hug, cue reiteration of themes better explored earlier.
Those that know me understand that I loooooooooooooove films that take risks, especially with their endings. How incredibly dark/great would it have been for Grug to spend his last moments with the wild-e-cat shivering in a dark cave that is falling apart? Fades to black, no music, all that is heard are the rocks falling. Boom. Oscar winner there. Would that have been dark for an animated kids movie? Sure, but would that not be something to remember? This would not have been completely tonally off with the rest of the film, as there are quite a few dark moments. The opening few minutes chronicle a few families that get killed by various ancient critters/rocks. A dog thing that was a pet falls off a cliff. They may just go for dark humor there (successfully, might I add), but this idea still falls in with those. Alas, it did not end that way, to my dismay. Oh well. Perhaps one day an animated film will try something like that, having read this review. Probably not though.
Would I recommend this film? In a heartbeat. It is quite fun, family-friendly, and better than most any 2012 animated film, save for Wreck-it Ralph. For those who enjoy watching Oscar films, this is probably going to be the runner-up this next year, behind Disney’s Frozen, which will probably continue Disney’s increasingly good products it has had over the last few years. Are there faults? Yes, I have mentioned them. Have you not been paying attention? Silly reader. Yes, there are faults that sink this film from being a truly great animated film, but it is still quite good. Check it out.