The Croods (2013)

The Croods is very similar to Dave the Barbarian, or, at least, it reminded me of that show while I was watching it. If you remember and like that show, you’re awesome. In a lot of ways, the characters are interchangeable, and The Croods winds up feeling like the longest and funniest episode of the canceled Disney show. And funny it is; this is, so far, the funniest film I’ve seen of 2013. You can quote me on that, advertising people.

Our film opens with some monologue from the teenage girl character, Eep (Emma Stone), who is sick of her overprotective father, Grug (Nicolas Cage), keeping her and her family in their cave. She explains that this is the reason that the Crood family has survived for this long, but also wishes for the freedom that could come from exploring the world. Soon enough, she sneaks out and meets a boy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who tells her that the end of the world is coming, and that the family needs to search for safety. The earth splits open, the cave is destroyed, and the family embarks on a journey, along with Guy, for the aforementioned safety.

Along this quest, they come across many varied and interesting environments, as well as some cute, funny, and dangerous animal hybrids. It’s all very colorful, very exciting, and will keep both children and adults entertained. The “end of the world” notion keeps the family moving and keeps the film’s pace brisk, while the areas that they’re forced into provide new thrills and dangers with every turn. And that’s about all The Croods had to do well in order to succeed.

Thankfully, especially for the older members of the audience, that isn’t all it does properly. It is also incredibly funny, delivering almost a laugh a minute — after a relatively slow start, when we’re setting up our basic premise, which is not funny and needed to be cut down. It also provides the children with strong themes told to them in a relatively simple and straightforward way. This isn’t anything unique to this movie, but it’s best not to put any confusion into the minds of the target audience.

As you’ll be unsurprised to learn, The Croods‘ story winds up having a lot of father/daughter bonding. The daughter starts the film hating her father’s over-protectiveness, while he needs to do some growing, too. There is also a conflict between Grug and Guy, not only because the latter is trying to woo the former’s daughter, but also because they represent two stages of evolution. Grug is the primitive caveman, while Guy is the “modern man,” who knows how to make things like “fire.”

It’s these little touches, I suppose, that elevates The Croods above other animated films, particularly the lesser films that come out of DreamWorks’ animated studio. The film was co-directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, the latter of whom was behind How to Train Your Dragon, which was also very good. There’s enough heart and charm, while also providing plenty of laughs, great animation, and simply a lot of fun. It’s hard to see anyone coming away from this film with a frown on their face.

The animation team has even somewhat sidestepped the problem that 3D animated films almost always face, which is that the human characters almost always look significantly worse than the rest of the picture. Humans are more difficult to animate, apparently, and also wind up looking like rubber in comparison to the fur or textured surfaces that surround them. Anyway, making most of the characters look oafish — they are cavemen, after all — slightly fixes this issue. It also allows for some unique looking individuals. The female protagonist is nothing like the toothpicks that populate the animated genre, for example.

It might not initially make sense to cast Nicolas Cage in the role of a giant caveman, but once you see the movie, you can see the brilliance in the casting. Cage can make any line hilarious, and his character often has to overact in an attempt to scare away predators. It makes sense for Cage to voice him, as he’s one of the best hammy actors in the business, and his delivery style adds to the charm and humor. Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds are less impressive, although they’re much more reserved, down-to-earth characters.

If The Croods suffers, it’s because of the supporting characters or, as the film calls them, the rest of the family. There are four other members of the Crood family, but they’re all painfully underdeveloped and essentially have one gimmick each. They provide some laughter and some good lines, but most of the time is dedicated to the three characters mentioned above. There’s really no reason for the other family members to even be in the film, and it would have been nice to see their roles expanded.

The Croods is a very enjoyable film, animated or not. It looks good, it’s got a lot of charm and heart, and it is very funny. While it would have benefited from a greater supporting cast — or their excision from the picture — it still manages to be one of the first truly enjoyable movies of the year, and the funniest one that I’ve seen in 2013. If you have children, or remember loving Dave the Barbarian during its short run, you should definitely give The Croods a watch.

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