March 22, 2013

The Croods

Grade: B -
Director: Chris Sanders
Starrings the voices of: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Until the launch of our universe, The Croods doesn’t start off with a big bang. Indeed, this Stone Age story about the titular Neanderthal family and their race to outrun encroaching continental drift doesn’t exactly ring animated kiddie fare (well, discounting for the fourth Ice Age installment). Indeed, the gestation period for this film project is was seems positively prehistoric. Originally announced in 2005 as a Aardman Animations stop motion flick, director Chris Sanders and DreamWorks took the reins in 2007 before Sanders left to helm How To Train Your Dragon.

After a few more delays, we finally see the Crood clan, headed by Grug (Nicolas Cage), an overprotective patriarch who abides by following the rules and eschews anything new. However, eldest daughter Eep (the aptly named Emma Stone) longs to explore the world beyond the refuge the family cave and a life of fear. Her outlook brightens when she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a hunky, devil-may-care caveboy whose bigger brain allows him to discover fire and possess an inordinate aptitude about rising tectonic activity.

But before the ground cracks and the lava flows, Guy guides smitten Eep, skeptical Grug and the rest of the Croods—including matriarch Ugga (Catherine Keener) and granny Thunk (Cloris Leachman)—through a technicolor paradise far removed from their Stone Age hovel. It’s a land of beauty and danger, where both the birds and flowers can be carnivorous. The narrative is as meandering as the Croods’ trek, with the plot essentially being to outrun chaos across a landscape of incongruous flora and fauna.

The script’s acuity comes from the subtle way the evolution of Grug and family mirrors that of humankind, whether it’s just the necessity of inventing shoes or embracing our inherent thirst for knowledge and capacity for exploration. And its charm flows from uniformly solid voice work, particularly Reynolds, Leachman and sassy Stone. There’s a groan-worthy scene in which Grug tries to become an idea-filled intellectual by adopting the persona of a 1960s hippie (??). But even here, Cage gives the role his wacky all.

The Croods is a pleasant, if not particularly noteworthy film, and there’s some thought-provoking ideas at play. But, to paraphrase Cage in Raising Arizona, when it comes to animated entertainment in a prehistoric setting, “it ain’t Fred and Wilma.”

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