Directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco are no strangers to directing on animated films with Sanders’ coming off his last movie, the Oscar-nominated animated film “How to Train Your Dragon,” while DeMico’s previous directorial work was on “Space Chimps” featuring the voice former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Andy Samberg. Sanders and DeMicco’s latest film, “The Croods,” is a prehistoric comedy adventure that follows a Neanderthal family as they embark on a road trip after the cave they were living is destroyed. I had a chance to speak with Sanders and DeMicco when they were in Miami as their film was part of the program of the 30th annual Miami International Film Festival.
Where did the concept for “The Croods” come from?
Kirk DeMicco: This started in 2004 and I started writing this with John Cleese. It was a different kind of movie in the sense that it was going to be made stop-motion and it was going to be called “Crood Awakenings” at the time. The idea was and still is about the fear of change and John really connected to it at the time because John has a deathly fear of technology. It was really more about technology and invention, but over time, that morphed and when Chris came over from Disney in 2007, we started talking about it. We both talked about the fear of change and what it was. From that point, it evolved into the story of a family. What’s really relatable and what really means something is that when you have a fear of changes, it possibly the changes that is happening within your own family. For a father, the scariest change is when his daughter begins to fall in love with a boy.
What message do you hope people take away from this film?
Chris Sanders: There are many different messages that are going on during the film. One of the ones I like to talk about is the idea of change and risk. At the beginning of this film, Grug, the dad, is trying to keep his family inside this cave and hide them away from danger. He’s also trying to hide them away from change. Nothing frightens the Croods like something new. Anything new is bad, but change finds them. Their cave is destroyed and it was nothing they could have ever stopped. The interesting thing about this film is that the villain of this film is change itself. In this film, it’s a collapsing continent that pursues the Croods through the entire film. The idea that Grug is going to have to accept, if this family is going to survive, that change is going to happen and you’re going to have to accept some level of risks. That is the lesson that Grug by the end of the film is that life is risk.
I want to talk about one of the voices in this movie, Emma Stone. She has a very distinctive voice that is kind of raspy, but nice. What did you guys think she would be good for the voice of Eep?
Sanders: She was our very first choice for the voice of Eep. There are a lot of things that you are looking for and one of them is that they inhabit their voice very fully. I think that was the overall quality that Emma Stone had that drew us to her. We thought she was very appealing, but she inhabit that voice because after these recording sessions, we do shoot some video just in case we see something the actor does during the sessions that we want to bring to the animators like a facial expression, gesture, timing or things like that. What we come away with most of the times is a recording and everything has to be in that recording. In her voice, there’s warmth, there’s an appeal, there’s quirkiness…
DeMicco: Her quirkiness is what made us fall in love with her when we watched “The House Bunny.” You know how her character in that movie was kind of awkward and we wanted Eep to have a bit of awkwardness because she’s a cavegirl. She’s not polished up or stuck up or anything like that. That is what she does well and her timing was so impeccable and perfect.
Eep is such an inspirational, strong female character. Do you plan to write more strong female characters in the future?
Sanders: We love female characters. I think that one of the things that worked very well in this film is that we had the opportunity to have more than one. We have three generations, four characters. I think that when you have a single female character in an animated film, we tend to be a bit precious with her and she becomes unnaturally perfect: she's very smart, she's very good. When you have more characters, I think it frees you up to have a lot more character in those roles. I think Gran is a great example. She’s extremely aggressive in her dislike for her son-in-law (laughs). Cloris Leachman does things in that role that couldn’t do comfortable if she was the only female character. We love female character and we think there are the strongest characters you can have. The more, the merrier.
What was the hard part about making this movie?
Sanders: This movie has an unusual story and it’s a road trip. For this movie, the changes in the characters are internal. Because of that, the physical journey that the characters take in this film was variable. All the changes were these internal changes and that was probable the hardest thing about making this film: writing and storyboarding the movie. We made a lot of changes and they went to a lot of places than you’ll ever see in this film, but it was all about triggering the correct responses from within the characters.
DeMicco: Another one was that this film takes place in a fantasy world and we had nothing to start with. All the artists at Dreamworks were like, “Wow…we can do anything we want.” Six months later, we were like “Um…where do we start?” I think that was really fun from the artists’ perspective because everything you see in the movie is from their imagination. It’s a fantasy world through and through and there was nothing to lean on. It was difficult, but fun.
Whose decision was it to cross a macaw with a sabertooth?
Sanders: I did design the character, but we were trying to a combination of animals. It was an idea one of our development artist came up with and very early on in the design process, he did a single drawing of an animal that was a combination of two creatures that we know. We thought “That’s a great way to go” and we imagined that if you roll backwards in time, maybe all these animals that we know today could have been fused together and they separated at some point. The tiger was an interesting one because he really is bit of a staple. I thought very strongly that we should have a couple of staples of our prehistoric world that we were all familiar with so we had a mammoth and a sabertooth tiger. The best combination we could have thought of was the coloration. The tiger has a green macaw coloration to him that is just stunning.
“The Croods” is now playing in Hialeah theaters. Click here for showtimes.