THE CROODS is the very definition of average family entertainment. Your kids will enjoy it. As an adult, you’ll be able to tolerate it, and, at least for the moments you spend in the theatre with it, you’ll have a decent time. You won’t be bored, and you won’t feel less intelligent, as you might with films aimed at children that severely dumb down the material for the lowest common denominator in the audience. But you also won’t walk away feeling as if you’ve just seen greatness in animation form, as you might watching the latest Pixar classic or something like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, which wasn’t afraid to take some pretty big risks for what would pass in an animated film for our soft culture. It’s far from being a bad film, but really nowhere near being a good film. It’s an okay piece of family fare that works for one of those Saturday afternoons when you can’t think up anything better to do.
The movie travels back to prehistoric times when cavemen still roamed the earth, although it doesn’t seem like that era will be much longer with warnings of The End firmly on the horizon. All the other cave families have been wiped out by one disastrous event or another, yet the Croods have persevered through it all, thanks to the vigilance of their patriarch Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage). Stuck in a cave at nearly every moment of every waking day, except when it’s time to look for food, Grug has instilled an unhealthy level of fear in his family, in order to keep them surviving. Something new? Bad. Something different? Bad. Curiosity equals danger, and the only way to stay alive is to follow his rules which are written on their cave’s wall, which when summed up really state “Don’t do anything.” One of the film’s best gags is Grug’s love for storytime, which always consists of a subject doing something they’re not supposed to do and ending up dead. How’s that for a parable to keep the masses in line?
Everyone in the family is willing to follow Grug’s rules for living, except his curious and adventurous daughter Eep, played by Emma Stone, who brings both an innocence and a fire to this spark plug of a character. To say Eep suffers from a bit of cabin fever would be an understatement, as the teenage girl has the natural inclination to know what else is out there in the world, what else exists besides what she can see within her cave. Therefore, when she sees a strange flicker of light one night outside, she can’t help herself in defying her father and seeking out its source. It is in that moment where she meets another human who goes by the name of Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who warns of the doomsday that is coming their way. It’s one of those love-hate attractions from the get-go, and once their paths cross again down the line, you know Guy’s new-school mentality will clash with Grug’s old-school ways with the affection of Eep hanging in the balance. It’s your typical father versus love interest battle, in which dad must eventually learn to let go as his little girl grows up, but that doesn’t mean we won’t take a good, long look at their complicated relationship first.
There are some intense sequences that come along with THE CROODS carrying a PG rating, but, for me, the film is painted into a bit of a corner by being so family-friendly. After all, this is a film about cavemen, who we know aren’t around anymore. But even more poignantly, THE CROODS sets up stakes that the course of events this family is fighting through at the moment is the very end of their existence. We see the fire and the lava and the brimstone with the ground rumbling and cracking open and swallowing up creatures and canyons indiscriminately at every turn. The film is not bashful at all about establishing the perils that will be faced by the Croods as they attempt to find some new sanctuary of safety from the outside world. But the problem the picture encounters is that none of them can die... not with impressionable young children watching, not with a potential franchise hanging in the balance, not with merchandise out the wazoo to be sold. And while I understand that’s a choice directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders couldn’t bring themselves to make, it’s an option that had it been selected would have made for a much better film that would resonate a lot deeper than what it dishes out now. There is such an opportunity to take that road less traveled in this sort of movie, but THE CROODS doesn’t quite have the guts and instead goes on for about 10 minutes too long in order to bring about that happy ending that’ll send families out into the streets ready to buy Happy Meal toys.
There are a few cute ideas along the way, such as Guy’s pet Belt, who not only holds his pants up but has a flair for the dramatic, and the evolution from caveman to man with the reliance on survival shifting from brawn to brains, but overall THE CROODS is a bit like styrofoam. It’s safe and it takes up a lot of space, but there’s really not much to it when you take a good look.
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