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Review: The Croods (2013)

The Croods (2013)

Directed by: Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders

Premise: An animated movie about a family of cavemen who are forced to abandon their home and set out across the world in search of a new place to live. The family takes in a stranger (voice of Ryan Reynolds) who agrees to lead them to safety but his adventurous ways cause conflict with the old-fashioned father (voice of Nicolas Cage).

What Works: The Croods is a lot of fun. This is a DreamWorks Animation production and like their other features, The Croods tells its story with speed, humor, and visually dynamism. The movie plays like a Tom and Jerry cartoon with a lot of physical comedy and visual-oriented storytelling, especially in the first half. But although The Croods has a lot of the qualities of a Saturday morning cartoon, this is a better produced animated feature than a lot of similar pictures like Ice Age and Madagascar. The difference in quality in The Croods is mostly found in the animation itself. The characters and their environments have a lot of texture and color is employed impressively with light and shadow used effectively. The Croods also includes brief but important coverage shots, close ups that are usually associated with live action filmmaking as opposed to animation, that add nuance to the performances of the characters. The filmmakers of The Croods aspire to tell a more complicated story than a lot of other animated films. The story sets high stakes for its characters by demolishing the Crood’s home in an intense earthquake sequence and pitting the family in a struggle to survive. The picture improves significantly in its second half as the filmmakers jettison most of the cartoonish elements in an effort to tell a more mature story. Their success at that is mixed but the middle portion of the movie does tell a satisfying story with an appropriate mix of comic and dramatic moments. Although the family dynamics are pretty standard they are done well enough to make the viewer empathize with the characters and engage with the story.

What Doesn’t: The Croods is a compromised film. The moviemakers don’t seem clear about who their main character is or if this is a story about the father, the daughter, or the relationship between them. The Croods begins in the mold of a movie like Brave as the daughter (voice of Emma Stone) rebels against her family’s conservative ways and discovers life beyond the cave. But once the journey gets underway the focus shifts to the father and the story resembles The Incredibles as a patricarch struggles to remain masculine and relevant. As the story approaches its end the narrative switches again, putting its emphasis on the father-daughter relationship, but by this time it’s too late for that. The Croods is also compromised in its ending. For a moment the picture appears as though it might conclude on a heart-wrenching moment of sacrifice; that would be an unexpected but satisfying ending that would lend The Croods the kind of dramatic weight that is so often missing from this kind of animated movie. But the filmmakers wimp out and go for a safer and more conventional resolution. This doesn’t ruin the movie and it is still a crowd pleaser but the decision to opt for a happy ending is also a wasted opportunity to do something better.

Bottom Line: The Croods is a reliable piece of family entertainment. Like other DreamWorks Animation productions it is less a piece of art and more an industrial product, but it is entertaining and will make for satisfactory family viewing.

Episode: #433 (March 31, 2013)