Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders
Written by Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco
The Croods is unmistakably a DreamWorks Animation film, something fitting with their recent output. The company has been churning out decent, if unmemorable animated films when not delivering pop-culture-heavy Shrek-like stories. And this new movie, about a family of cavemen journeying out from their protective cave after it’s destroyed, is well-animated, fast-paced to the point of being manic, and inoffensive. There are far worse animated movies for a family to watch, but The Croods is too inconsistent in its script to stand out long after you leave the theater.
Emma Stone voices Eep, the rebellious teenage daughter of the Crood clan, who’ve managed to outlive all of the other caveman families by being overly fearful of the desolate landscape in which they thrive, and all the various hybrid-like animals who wish to do them harm. But Eep wants to explore, and soon meets another human, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a young man who tells of the end of the world thanks to earthquakes, and is the first of their kind to harness fire. Guy and his various innovations scare Eep’s father, Grug (Nicolas Cage), who’s unable to let go of the idea that hiding is the best way to live. When their cave is destroyed by exactly what Guy predicted, the shifting of Earth’s continents, the Croods and their young friend go on a journey to “tomorrow,” a way to live instead of simply surviving.
Honestly, The Croods begins at a low point, as if writers-directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco presumed younger audiences would need an overdose of action in the first act to keep them awake through the rest of the story. Thanks to the pacing, the first 15 minutes of this movie is akin to being a passenger in a speeding vehicle whose brakes have been cut on a downhill slant. All you want is for The Croods to slow down, if only a bit. And it does, once the family and Guy leave the destroyed cave and venture to a faraway mountaintop so they can “follow the light.” Even then, the writing is strangely inconsistent; half of the time, the Croods are direct relatives of the Flintstones, loud and obnoxiously modern despite their tiger-skin loincloths. The other half, we’re meant to be deeply invested not only in Eep’s relationship with Guy, but the way that Grug feels watching his family slip away from him. That the third act, a strange blend of pathos and derring-do, doesn’t feel totally messy is impressive, but it would’ve been nice had The Croods been more straightforward throughout.
The real star of the film is the animation, which gradually becomes more colorful as the Croods tentatively approach this odd new environment, full of objects and animals they’ve never seen before. As an excuse to throw together elephants and mice, dogs and alligators, or snakes and koalas, The Croods is often striking to look at. (The film is being shown in 3D, but this review is of a 2D screening; as the camera frequently moves around, it’s hard to imagine the 3D glasses would add much.) The actors—there’s Clark Duke as Eep’s little brother, Thunk; Cloris Leachman as Gran, and Catherine Keener as Eep’s mother, Ugga—are good enough, especially considering that they, along with Stone, Cage, and Reynolds, are the only ones with dialogue. Still, during the first half, when the Croods are bickering endlessly and the surrounding animals cover their ears, hoping to drown out the shouting, it’s hard not to sympathize with the characters who can’t talk. There are a few genuinely funny moments, many relegated to Guy’s pet sloth Belt (three guesses what his job in life is, and the first two don’t count), but The Croods is louder more than funny.
By itself, The Croods is a forgettable if passable animated movie. Some animation buffs may be a bit let down, thus, to see that Sanders, the co-writer/director of DreamWorks’ best animated film, How to Train Your Dragon, is following it up with something a bit too imbalanced. That film and The Croods both have a central relationship that’s meant to be relatable enough to be a tearjerker. The former, by telling the story of a boy and his pet, works wonders for the most part; the father-daughter connection here is both unsubtle and flimsy. That aside, The Croods is well-meaning and beautiful to look at. It’s just not very special.
— Josh Spiegel