Movie Review: The Croods
By Matthew Huntley
March 28, 2013
Adolescent female independence has long been a popular theme in family movies, particularly animated ones. It wasn’t even a year ago that Disney-Pixar gave us Brave, about a Scottish teenage archer seeking to break free of her pre-determined role in the family monarchy. She craved adventure and wanted to see and explore the world for herself, challenging longstanding traditions such as arranged marriages or the idea that men should tell women how to live.
Hollywood loves this kind of plot because it’s an easy sell and the heroines are often identifiable. Plus it’s familiar enough that it puts minimal mental strain on the audience. But I’m of the opinion this plot (and variations of it) has been played out and we’ve reached a point where family movies now need to tackle something new and original. Unfortunately, DreamWorks’ The Croods doesn’t quite fit the bill.
It follows a family of cavemen as the earth begins to shake and divide into the continental land masses we know today. We don’t know the movie’s exact time and place, except that it’s prehistoric, and yet the characters come equipped with modern-day sensibilities and attitudes. They react to things in their world the way we do in ours, which is meant to serve as one of the running jokes. For instance, the way today’s teenagers are infatuated with cell phones, the like characters in The Croods are toward the shells they use to call other people. Though this humor isn’t very inspired or funny, it’s light and inoffensive, so we let the movie have it.
Eep (voice of Emma Stone) is at the center of the story and she tells us about her family, the Croods, who are led and protected by her overly cautious dad, Grug (Nicolas Cage). His M.O. is to “always be afraid,” because that’s what earlier cave drawings dictate. But Eep thinks they might be wrong and she’s outspoken about being tired of the same old routine in which Grug gathers, along with Eep, his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), son Thunk (Clark Duke), infant daughter Sandy (Randy Thom), and obnoxious mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman) into the family cave where they all sleep on top of each other from sundown to sunrise to avoid dangerous animals like sabre-tooth cats. Sometimes, Grug will tell everyone a story, but it’s always the same cautionary tale meant to instill and perpetuate fear, which is why the hero always dies at the end. Eep can’t help but think if this is all that life has to offer, what’s the point?
Then one night she discovers there are other people out there. She’s awakened by a glow and decides to follow it. It turns to be a flame, and for the first time, Eep sees fire, which fascinates her. She also meets the boy who started it, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who, whaddya know, is just about her age. (It’s often a requirement of movies about a strong-willed female that she’ll eventually meet a man who will sweep her off her feet.)
After an awkward introduction, Guy tells Eep the world is ending, evidenced by all the recent earthquakes, and that he’s on a mission to reach safer ground. When Grug discovers Eep has been out and hears about this whole end-of-the-world thing, he immediately dismisses it as nonsense and is perfectly willing to resign to his usual, unadventurous habits. But after another terrestrial shift destroys the family cave, Grug is forced to lead his family beyond their normal range of travel and find a new home.
The Croods embark on a rugged journey across a vast forest full of strange, exotic plants and animals. Along the way, they discover new things and ideas like shoes, pets, belts, jokes, traps and stories with happy endings. Of course, this upsets Grug because it loosens his control over his family and for the first time he considers he might have to change his way of thinking and become more open-minded (another common theme in movies of this nature, particularly for father figures).
Now don’t get me wrong. I support all the lessons and messages of The Croods, but in spite of that, the movie wasn’t anything special to me. Maybe I’m just too desensitized to what it has to offer, or perhaps there have just been too many movies like it, but I found its entertainment value limited. Visually and energetically speaking, it’s bright, cheerful, colorful and goofy, but it’s probably best suited for little kids. As an adult, I was too aware of its missed opportunities to do something new and different with the material. For example, and without giving too much away, there’s a scene where one of the Croods must depart the others and the situation looks grim in terms of survival and being reunited. For a split second, I thought the movie might take a darker path and earn some unexpected poignancy and depth. But the writing-directing team of Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders choose an easier, more traditional route, which isn’t surprising given it’s a major Hollywood enterprise and risky storytelling is often equated with financial risk.
The Croods is not a bad movie, but in the ever expanding landscape of mainstream family animation, it’s also not a very distinct or memorable one. I’ll forget it in a week’s time and I’m willing to bet kids will like it at the time they watch it but it won’t stick with them like Toy Story or How to Train Your Dragon do. It’s fair and harmless, just not especially praiseworthy since it mostly retreads all too familiar ground.