directors Kirk DeMicco, Chris Sanders
viewed: 03/23/2013 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA
I can’t say as I went in to see The Croods with much hope or expectation. The trailers for the film showed polished animation design but a pretty stilted and heavy-handed narrative and characterization. But as I often note, I’m happy to take the kids to see a lot of things, and I was willing enough to see The Croods. The strange thing was that I thought it was the best big feature animation since Wreck-It Ralph (2012), another film that kind of surprised me. Lower expectations can serve a good purpose.
The Croods are a dying breed. Neanderthals to be exact. And as Pangea starts to break apart, they are forced to change with the times. And in changing with the times, they meet their biological usurper, a homo sapien.
While it’s all prehistoric, it’s also your classic family conundrum. Nicolas Cage voices Grug, the big father figure of the film, who preaches fear and survival to his whole family. His daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), is a teenager, dreaming of freedom and life experience. So, the major plot points do turn on some extremely traditional ideas.
The film’s greatest strength is in its design. The vivid world they inhabit features a hilarious menagerie of weird cross-creatures such as land whales, turtle birds, elephant giraffes, and tons more. The incidental fauna and flora make up a vivid and clever and consistently surprising universe. And the character designs, while at first glimpse maybe not as innovative perhaps, are actually very rich on their own. The family is given clever physical traits, uniting them. And Eep in a lot of ways is as beautifully rendered and realized as Princess Merida from Brave (2012), which got a lot more attention. The Neanderthal family all have interesting, quirky stances and movement, and truth be told, the whole of the film struck me as really pretty good.
For someone who sees as much children-oriented animated feature films as I do, I think I’m relatively cynical. But I liked The Croods. Grug, Ugga (Catherine Keener), and Gran (Cloris Leachman) aren’t the most interesting of characters. Gran actually is a pretty annoying cliche. But Nicolas Cage, whose incongruous voice doesn’t exactly sound like it should be coming from a caveman, has enough to work with to make the father-daughter-boyfriend scenario funny and amusing.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not epic or necessarily great, it’s just a beautifully designed, clever, enjoyable computer animated film in an ever-more crowded field of weak fare.