‘The Croods’ Review
Much like the characters within the film, my attitude toward 'The Croods' evolved.
The first 25 minutes or so are awful. The uninteresting, darn-near-ugly character designs, dumb jokes and frenetic, boisterous action in lieu of ingenuity or thrills in 'The Croods'' first act is a chore. I was stunned to check my watch and realize how much left I had in the movie. “Man,” I thought to myself, “it's amazing how wretched some of these kids' films can be compared to something like 'Rango.'”
Then the bottom fell out (in a surprisingly literal way) and 'The Croods' transformed. “Man,” I thought to myself, “this is the weirdest, most adventuresome and gorgeous kids' film I've seen since 'Rango.'”
The Crood clan of cave-dwellers are ostensibly led by Grug (Nicolas Cage) and his brawn, but is ultimately pushed forward by daughter Eep (Emma Stone) and her brave, inquisitive nature. “Why hide in the dark when you can chase the light?” is the ultimate, aphoristic moral of the story, and while the film's final reel does devolve into bland, feel-good mush, the bulk of the picture is funny and bright and, at times, a little subversive.
When an unexpected earthquake sends our group on the hunt for a new domicile, they take a giant leap toward mankind's eventual civilization. Their world is filled with colorful dangers like swarming red piranha birds, iridescent saber-tooth tigers and inky tar, as well as delights like humongous flowers and crystal blue lakes.
While there's not too much that seems rooted in actual evolutionary science in 'The Croods,' the implication is that our fear-driven family represents the Neanderthals and Guy (Ryan Reynolds), whose knowledge of fire and Bugs Bunny-style schemes represents Cro-Mags. If Jean-Jacques Annaud's 'Quest For Fire' were to mate with 'Monsters Inc.,' it would look something like this.
Most interestingly is how some of the humor comes from a frank depiction of Early Man's savagery. While this is heavily and frequently undercut by sitcom tropes (“she just needs space,” Mama Crood says concerning her angsty daughter) there's a disarming brutality in a kiddie film where Grandma, driven mad by feast-lust, is ready to kill and eat her grandson.
When the Croods wake up each morning (after a day of avoiding cliffs, lava streams and sharp-fanged beasts) their rallying cry is “Still Alive!” It gets a big laugh, but comes from a genuine place of panic. Moments like this and others - like calling fire a “cute, baby sun” or remarking that jumping while standing on sharp coral only helps “for a second” - show that beneath the wannabe Pixar veneer of 'The Croods,' there's some real, dark humor about the human condition. Turns out that an early version of the screenplay was co-written by Monty Python's John Cleese.
Perhaps it is my exhaustion with Pixar's pledge to ram facile, melancholy story arcs into everything, but I found myself enjoying the cutting and zanier aspects of 'The Croods.' (Regarding zaniness, the characters don't really know what fire is but they know this tune.) Clever Guy uses the old “dress up a puppet like it is a female” to fake-out a villain not once but twice. That's writers' chutzpah. The big action ending, while long, looks great, though all the tear-stained hugging feels forced in a film that makes great comic use of death being around every corner.
In the end, 'The Croods' has its own voice. When the dopey, pudgy kid names his odd-looking pet Douglas, it reminded me a tad too much of the dopey, pudgy kid naming the odd-looking pet Kevin in 'Up.' But when Douglas is trained to roll over – then a wide shot reveals he's fallen off a cliff – it's a gag Pixar would never try.
'The Croods' hits theaters Friday, March 22.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.