Review: 'The Croods'

You should generally ignore any marketing campaign where they say, "Movie X, from the same people that brought you Movie Z!", because whatever film they are mercilessly promoting usually either bears no meaningful relation to the previous work, or pales in comparison. Thankfully, that's not the case where co-writer/director Chris Sanders is concerned, as his work on "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Lilo & Stitch" is completely indicative of the experience you'll have with "The Croods," which is to say a supremely positive one. This Chris Sanders fellow knows how to craft a heart-warming animation, and if not for a few minor problems this would have had a legitimate shot at the best animated movie of 2013.

Amazingly, if you're looking for a visual cinematic comparison to "The Croods" you'd have to first mention "Life of Pi" or "Avatar". That's not hyperbole, as this lush rendering of early B.C. Earth is a wondrous visual spectacle on par with those landmark films. Bright pink birds, crazy looking plants, blue tigers - "The Croods" is a movie that takes time with all the details. It looks fantastic, and the visuals alone should keep adults and families entertained. Just to fully dip into the used car persona where "The Croods" is concerned, that's not all! The comedy is firmly in place, and as with "How to Train Your Dragon" the punchlines come from everywhere and yet nowhere. The film isn't set up in the traditional "lesser" animation style of "Hotel Transylvania," "Kung Fu Panda 2," or "Shrek 2" where you can absolutely see the joke being constructed via bodily humor, lame puns, or pop culture references. Instead, "The Croods" goes the observational comedy route that's been a joy to watch in films such as "Bee Movie" and "Toy Story". However, and just to differentiate this film from the largely awesome Pixar works, the comedy employed here is of a more oddball and quirky variety. Where Pixar is often clever, "The Croods" is regularly wacky, and this brand of humor elevates the material to having actual comedic value, always a welcome surprise where films aimed at younger audiences are concerned.

Kudos firmly in the front of our minds, let's take a beat to factor in a few of the flaws in "The Croods". The major structural problem is the lack of villain. While not an issue where an animation team is looking to make an innovative film, "The Croods" makes it a problem by trying to force-feed tension to the audience in the form of Crood family leader Grud (Nicolas Cage). It should be said that this is Cage's best performance since, well, "Kick-Ass"? Or maybe "World Trade Center"? It's been a rough decade for Mr. Cage, hopefully "The Croods" proves he can at least deliver great voice work when called upon.


But back to that false tension, Grug's character flaw is that he hates change. As a caveman, he's focused on survival, implementing strict cave rules and preaching to his family to always be afraid of everything. That's all well and good for the opening 30 minutes or so, but when Grug is banging the same one-note drum well through the hour mark of the film it becomes extremely repetitive. There is also the salient theme that change is occurring no matter who is against it, and so this sets up an expectation that Grug will eventually come around, leaving us simply waiting for the other shoe to finally drop. The other minor ding, and this is only an issue if you have children, is that I personally wouldn't take a child under the age of eight to this PG-rated film. There are moments of lava peril, copious deaths, and more than one hunter-killer animal that thrusts the Croods into hysterics. Perhaps children are growing up quicker than ever, but my imaginary five-year-old would be terrified of this movie. Still, for the eight to eleven range "The Croods" will play in a big way.

In terms of the other voice actors, Ryan Reynolds sort of redeems himself for the disastrous "Green Lantern" film with his work on Guy, the young lad who takes on the Crood family as the forced end of their cave-dwelling life leaves them confused and untethered. Eep (Emma Stone) is also a wonderful role model for young girls and boys, though it's strange that a film about cave people has a far more worthy female protagonist than Oscar-winner "Brave" (seriously, Academy, what happened there?). Overall, "The Croods" is very solid at building character, and that's no surprise given the pedigree of the work. To be completely fair, it's not as good as "Lilo & Stitch" or "How to Train Your Dragon," but it's in the ballpark, and being a bronze-medalist in a crowd full of winners is nothing to be ashamed of.

Grade: B

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and wouldn't be caught dead in a cave, for the dampness would ruin him.