The Croods is the latest film by DreamWorks Animation, featuring a family of cavemen, forced to leave the comfort – relatively speaking – of their home. At its heart, that is the basic structure, narrowing in on how the family, particularly the overprotective father (Nicolas Cage) and his ever-curious daughter (Emma Stone), deal with uprooting routine for something new.
It’s a far better adventure than it’s marketing depicts, which portrays The Croods as jokes about people on fire screaming or falling down cliffs and screaming. It’s not a real shock considering one of the creative forces; Chris Sanders. Sure Kirk De Micco (Racing Stripes) is involved as a co-writer/director, but Sanders is a veteran of the animated world with two highly enjoyable, surprisingly moving movies under his belt in the forms of Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon. Sanders hand can be seen all over the finished product, which was initially based off a John Cleese story. Sanders' standard sense of the importance a family bond can bring is ripe through out The Croods. Well, at least when it’s at its best.
Cage’s father Grugg is a cautious one, sticking to a strict regiment of how to make it through each day. He’s the protector of the group, consisting of the aforementioned daughter Eep, a younger son, a baby daughter, his wife and her mother. Other than some consistently flat jokes about how awful mother-in-laws are, each more tiresome than the last, this dynamic offers plenty of comedy, and in the end heart. Grugg isn’t attempting to control the happiness of those around him; he’s genuinely concerned. After all, the group hasn’t seen a fellow caveman in ages, each having been eaten or stomped to death some time ago.
That is until Eep peeps some light shining through their rock-covered dwelling. She follows the light, which turns out to be a torch belonging to the human Guy (Ryan Reynolds), the next stage in evolution. Lacking the brawn of Eep and her kin, Guy does sport a brighter brain and fears the world is cracking apart and, eventually, convinces the titular bunch to join him in a trek - The Land Before Time style - across treacherous terrain to literally greener pastures.
The comedy derived from Guy’s feud with Grugg is ripe, stemming from the former’s gushy eyes with Eep and their disagreement on brain v. brawn. The movie also gets the most out of its lush visual palette and design, playfully ringing the oddities that come with evolution for strange creature designs. The character simplicity is more problematic. Where the easy structures of Grugg, Eep and Guy make for compelling moments, the relationship between Grugg and his wife (Catherine Keener) is so flat that it falters when the movie goes for certain sentimental beats; a character’s change of heart can’t be worthwhile if it never existed in the first place.
This hit and miss mixture is The Croods through and through, even up until an ending the earns its emotions, before undercutting them with a few false-ish endings, including one that would’ve been a dynamite, memorable way to go out.
The Croods opens wide all across Seattle tomorrow.