First world problems
Meet the Croods, an irresistibly likable family of Neanderthals struggling to survive each other and the prehistoric world they live in. They’re awesome, right? You can tell from just the previews. Now meet Dreamworks, the hit-or-miss animation studio that took the Croods’ sparking potential to be an animated triumph, and tossed it in a bubbling volcano. Not quite as awesome.
Dreamworks usually cooks up fantastic original films (Shrek, Madagascar, and How to Train Your Dragon, to name three) and gives them terrible cash-guzzling sequels. This will (hopefully) not be the case with The Croods, a film already mediocre enough that it doesn’t need a sequel to ruin it.
The film follows the typical trajectory of an entire Dreamworks series, in fact. The opening quarter or so is fun, original, and enrapturing. Excitement dies as the plot progresses, though still comes with occasional moments of excitement. But by the end the story takes a few weird turns and begins to drag, and we wonder how the movie got this far in the first place.
In The Croods, Eep (Emma Stone) is the world’s first spoiled teenage brat. Sick of the days spent cramped in a dark cave with her animalistic family, she longs for freedom and excitement – if only the world around them wasn’t overrun by meat-eating doglizards. Her father Grug (Nicholas Cage’s forehead) keeps his family away from any potential danger (“Doglizard stampede? BACK TO THE CAVE. Someone tooted? BACK TO THE CAVE.”) and leads his family on romp-stompin’ intricately choreographed quests for dinner.
As Pangea begins to separate (according to this movie it happened a lot faster than scientists originally thought) the family must rely on the world’s first “intelligent caveman” Guy (Ryan Reynolds) to lead them to a safe land called Tomorrow. As his family begins to trust Guy’s adventurousness more than his own overprotective instincts, Grug must adapt to a new world, and learn that not everything is, ahem, set in stone.
Though not every member of the family is given as much screen time as Grug or Eep, the Crood clan is still insanely likable. Capable of surviving fifty feet falls and withstanding boulder avalanches, the Croods’ charming hyperactivity is enough to entertain for the whole movie. Cloris Leechman, who plays the carnivorous Gran, was born to be a crazy old lady. She’s reached her zenith. And Nicholas Cage was able to convey the emotional simplicity of a caveman’s speech without much adjustment to his regular voice; it didn’t even have to show his forehead. The Croods are adorable. I’m so sad they died a few eras ago.
And we hardly have any time to enjoy them. The film opens with a typical family quest for dinner. Tonight’s menu: the egg of some bizarre dinosaur ostrich. The family captures the egg and tosses it from one member to the other like a football to keep it away from its mama and whatever other hungry animals join the competition. The scene is frantic, clever, and desperate to entertain. I wonder if a full 98 minutes of this plot-less chase would have been better than the film we actually got.
Something with the film did go right, however, when in a sea of frenzied visuals and quirky animals, the most entertaining thing to watch is the expressions on the characters’ faces. Knowing Dreamworks, this won’t be the last we see of the Croods. Too bad the inevitable sequel will be worse.