While it’s never highly publicized, sometimes a replacement director/writer can be a saving grace in the world of animation. It’s happened twice at Pixar alone — first on Ratatouille and again with this year’s Oscar-winning Brave. Sometimes the studio can smell a rat and needs fresh blood to come in and save the day. For DreamWorks Animation, they decided to bring in Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon) to rescue The Croods from Kirk De Micco (Space Chimps).
The Croods may not quite be the next instant classic, but at least it lives up to the fact that DreamWorks is still nipping at Pixar’s heels, so long as Shrek or Madagascar isn’t featured in the title. Yes, the days of Shark Tale and Bee Movie are long gone now.
We’re introduced to The Croods through 2D animated rock drawings explaining that Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) and her loveable family are the last of the Neanderthals. Her dad, Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage), believes in having as many rules as possible to keep them safe. Eep isn’t a fan of these overbearing rules and hates being cooped up in their cave for three days running. Her mother Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener) loves her brood and understands Grug means well and tries explaining that Eep just needs some personal space. Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke) is up for abiding by any rule Grug lays down, Grandma Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman) keeps pushing Grug’s buttons, teasing him with the fact that she’s still alive, and baby Sandy (voiced by Randy Thom) grunts and gnarls like a newborn puppy.
One night, Eep breaks Grug’s most important rule by slipping out of the cave at night after being awoken by a light from outside. She follows the light to find a fire, something she’s never seen before. The fire belongs to Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) whom Eep is instantly smitten with. Especially since he’s the only boy around besides Thunk. Guy explains to Eep that “The End” is coming and they need to be prepared, but Grug thinks that he knows best, even though they’re constantly in hiding, and eventually a rift destroys their cave. Now the whole family sets out on the Earth’s first road trip leading to treks through dried up ocean beds full of walking whales, attacks by piranhakeets, listening to Guy’s “ideas” like how to set traps to catch food and Belt (voiced by Sanders), the sloth-like, scene-stealer who doubles as pet and fashion accessory, all while trying to get to higher ground and survive “The End.”
There’s far more going on here than the advertising would lead you to believe. And if anyone was ever hoping for “Darwinism: The Movie” they need look no further. Thankfully Sanders (who I’m giving full credit here because there’s no way De Micco could have pulled this film off) never hits you over the head. Everything is just up on screen for you to take it for what it is, but it may put off some in the Creationist camp. Of course, a family full of Neanderthals is going to be designed after apes, right? The voice cast is having a ball, with Cage never bogging down the proceedings as I originally feared. And leave it to Emma Stone to make a caveman groan endearingly every time.
As seems to be the case with each new 3D release, the 3D is worth the extra charge as it gives “The End” a real sense of danger with depth that expands literally to the horizon while floating embers, dust, and dandelions make you want to swat them away from your face. Alan Silvestri adds a rousing soundtrack harkening back to his days of early Robert Zemeckis collaborations like Back to the Future, Death Becomes Her, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. DreamWorks definitely continues their winning streak with The Croods, a new generation’s own modern stone-age family.
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