Far more enjoyable than I'd guessed it would be from the trailer, the animated work THE CROODS works as both a story about an overprotective father during caveman times and as a silly, inventive comedy filled with wonderful prehistoric creatures and some great voice work from a talented group of actors. The story is simple. Grug (Nicolas Cage, refusing to dial back his Cage-ness just because we don't see his face) is the patriarch of a family of cave dwellers who have learned to be especially cautious about stepping out of their cave into the wild world outside. His wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), son Thunk (Clark Duke) and grandmother (Cloris Leachman) seem to understand his reasons for being so protective, but his formative daughter Eep (Emma Stone) wants to wander.
During one of her journeys outside the cave, Eep discovers a slightly more evolved human named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who has, among his many advanced possessions, fire. Suddenly her eyes are opened to the possibilities of what the world outside may hold. And when she brings Guy to meet her family, his advances (Gurg would say "less safe") ways become infectious. At around this time, the earth is going through some major shifting, and soon the Croods' cave is gone and they must search out a more stable and fruitful place to live. What they discover is a rich land filled with colorful creatures, plants and landscapes, but danger is still a part of their lives.
If I told you that repeated Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins was a visual consultant on THE CROODS, would that make you more likely to see it? Deakins' influence is all over the film's stunning visuals, from lighting a scene whose only light source is a torch to sprawling vistas. But I also loved the designs of the wildlife (plant and animal) in the world of THE CROODS, some of which is clearly based on nothing but imagination. I was also so impressed with the casual nature of the voice acting here. The delivery doesn't feel like joke, joke, joke; it's more of a conversational manner of talking that made it easier to accept these characters as people.
The film was co-directed by Kirk De Micco (SPACE CHIMPS) and the great Chris Sanders (LILO & STITCH and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON), and their combined emphasis on this family story goes from fairly lighthearted at the beginning to an all-out action film and tale of self-sacrifice to keep those you love safe. The tonal switch is welcome and so different than the one-note delivery so many animated films hit.
Cage fans should pay particular attention because the man is just as on fire here as he is in just about any of his live-action works. But the real hero of THE CROODS is Emma Stone, who does hormonal teenager better than just about anyone—living or animated. She has such a wonderfully manic delivery, and while Eep may not look anything like Stone, there are things about her mannerisms that are clearly borrowed from the actress' arsenal. Even though she clearly has the upper-body strength to rip me in half, that didn't stop me from falling for Eep a little bit.
THE CROODS doesn't pander to younger audiences nearly as much as you might believe. I'm sure many younger kids will be slightly traumatized by some of the animal attacks, but probably twice as many will want stuffed versions of said animals to play with after they see the movie. Most of the films overt messages seem to be aimed more toward adults, asking them to let go of their growing kids a little bit so they can go out into the world and make their own mistakes (allowing them to become film critics, for example). I genuinely enjoyed this film, and while I'm not sure it will be one of my favorite animated films of 2013, it's miles better than that god-forsaken ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH.