Mark Reviews Movies

The Croods


3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders

Cast: The voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke

MPAA Rating: PG (for some scary action)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 3/22/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 21, 2013

The Croods is a story of human evolution in a 90-minute bubble, as a family of Neanderthals learns to adapt to a changing world with a little help from an early human being. It's perhaps best to ignore the actual historical fate of the Neanderthal in the evolutionary chain in relation to the film, because these characters are too likeable for what, in the end, would be a depressing reality.

It doesn't start that way, though. With its opening sequence (after a funny opening narration about the various perils—from stomp-happy mammoths to the dreaded common cold—of being a caveman, as they're called here, set to animated cave drawings), the film focuses on the group dynamic of the Croods, who spend their days hunting for food and their nights sleeping in a pile on the floor of a cave closed off by a giant rock. Sometimes they will spend days at a time in their fortified shelter if the conditions outside are too dangerous.

Such is the case when we first meet them in an introduction that seems far more concerned with the free-wheeling motion afforded by its computer animation than the characters themselves. It's engaging on a technical level, with our first glimpses of the colorful and offbeat design of the various creatures that inhabit this prehistoric landscape, but it reduces the family to a series of quirks and superhuman abilities.

Things make a quick turnaround once the dust has settled and the dreary nature of the Croods' existence reveals itself. They are living in a dying world—scarce of food and filled with more desperate predators—about to be changed forever by continent-decimating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Their lives have always been about survival, but it's starting to look like their survival is just a matter of delaying the inevitable.

In a way, that's the philosophy of the family's paternal leader Grug (voice of Nicolas Cage), who is physically strong but scared of and paranoid about every real or imagined threat. For as pragmatic as he is about the dangers lurking in the night and in the unknown, he is certain that his family will make it through whatever challenges they may face, thanks to his protection and ever-growing collection of rules. The majority of the Crood clan—wife Ugga (voice of Catherine Keener), son Thunk (voice of Clark Duke), mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman), and baby Sandy (voice of Randy Thom)—go along with Grug.

Trying his system is his daughter Eep (voice of Emma Stone), a rebellious sort with aspirations of exploring the world outside of the safety of her family and familiar terrain. Grug loves to tell stories, which the family dutifully and eagerly gathers around to hear, but Eep, who once was also  excited for these tales, has grown tired of them—mostly because they wind up being thinly veiled allegories about her curiosity and warnings about where it will lead. While the opening chase sequence is shallowly impressive, the film finds a much more successful molding of technology and character development in a scene in which Eep climbs the walls of a cavern, attempting to feel the last possible bit of light from the sun before it disappears over the horizon.

Later that night, Eep wanders out of the cave when she spots a strange light through the cracks of the rock. Following it, she discovers Guy (voice of Ryan Reynolds), he of a more recognizable physical appearance and an adorable sloth that is both a pet and a belt (not to mention the provider of dramatic music cues), carrying the light of the sun on a stick; he explains that it is fire. Guy also tells her that the world is going to end and very soon, and he gives her a conch to sound if Eep ever needs his help. Grug is furious when he finds her alone in the dark, and as they make their way back to the cave as the sun rises, the earth trembles, destroying their home and forcing them to dive into an unknown land.  Eventually, Guy becomes their guide to a tall mountain where he believes they will be safe.

The thematic goals of the film should be clear by now, and if they're not, the screenplay by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders (Both directed the film, too) spells it out for us by the end. It's the difference between surviving and living, and if it sounds simplistic, one must take into account that De Micco and Sanders earn that sincere succinctness by way of at least two surprisingly dense conflicts. The first is between Eep and Guy, as representatives of a new generation, and Grug, who stubbornly holds to his old way of thinking even as the ground collapses behind him. It's a fight with ideas and ingenuity on one side and brute strength and limited thought on the other, and beneath it all is a father's resistance to letting go of his child.

The other conflict is the group's battle with nature, which finds plenty of strange ways of trying to kill them—from a flock of tiny red birds that devour a land whale to the bone in a matter of seconds to a saber-toothed tiger that shows up at the most inconvenient times. The most pressing matter is the violent shifting of tectonic plates gradually approaching them as they flee for the mountain. Guy can outsmart any animal he comes across, but there's no besting continental drift.

The two conflicts come together in a genuinely touching climax that forces its primary players to confront what is most important to them. By then, The Croods has resolutely shown itself to be more than an exercise in technical polish.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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