The cast is all terrific, especially Emma Stone, who continues to prove that there isn’t anything she can’t do.
DreamWorks Animation’s latest offering is The Croods, a charming, if simple, movie with genuinely touching*- sentiments. The story takes place during the period of prehistory in which “cavemen” were becoming extinct and modern man was becoming the dominant creature on Earth. (The evolutionary distinctions and progression of primate species is simplistic, but you get the point.) Eep (Emma Stone) and her family are essentially the last living cavemen. All of their neighbors have been killed by mammoths or the common cold, but thanks to her dad, Grug (Nicolas Cage), and his motto of “Never not be afraid,” the Croods have managed to survive. For the Croods, though, “survive” means hiding in a dark cave for days on end, and then sneaking out to hunt with only moderate success.
Eep’s world is turned upside down when she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a man who walks upright, uses tools, and can create fire. Compared to Eep and her family—who are physically and mentally one step above apes—Guy is a genius. He tells the Croods that the end of the world is coming. In actuality, the planet’s tectonic plates are shifting and the continental drift is causing the ground to open up and volcanoes to erupt. While Grug is averse to anything new, his wife, Ugga (Catherine Keener), and the rest of his family are keen to follow Guy.
The cast is all terrific, especially Stone, who continues to prove that there isn’t anything she can’t do. Stone plays Eep perfectly, balancing the roles of selfish and rebellious teenager with curious investigator. Reynolds, too, is very good. Unable to rely on the charm he normally oozes on screen, Reynolds uses his vocal talents to imbue Guy with a great deal of charisma. While Nicolas Cage has become a bit of a punch line in recent years, here he gives a truly hilarious performance. Grug is stuck in his ways because, out of pure luck, it has allowed him and his family to survive so far. The stress and doubt is apparent, and Cage does a wonderful job making Grug convincing and sympathetic.
The script is quite funny, with plenty of subtle humor that adults will appreciate. Guy’s sidekick is a sloth named Belt (“He’s a chef, a navigator, and he holds up my pants.”). Eep’s brother, Thunk (Clark Duke), is outsmarted by practically everything, alive or inert, but he never stops trying. The combative relationship between Grug and his mother-in-law, Gran (Cloris Leachman), is predictable and expected, but watching Grug repeatedly delight in the split second he thinks she may finally have kicked the bucket is funny again and again.
In terms of the aesthetic choices made by co-writers/directors Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, I’m torn. The fantastical world in which the Croods live is visually beautiful, filled with colorful creatures that seem to have sprung from a Hunter S. Thompson fever dream. This is also my biggest problem with the movie. The filmmakers could have used this opportunity to teach their young audience about the magnificent animals that actually roamed the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, and the drastically different appearance of the planet’s landscape. Instead, they create sperm whales that (awkwardly) walk on land, and piranha-like birds that can devour an animal in only a few seconds. Perhaps De Micco and Sanders were either anticipating or responding to the inevitable parental backlash over the implied support of evolutionary theories and the age of the Earth. This choice, though, undercut much of the movie’s success. | Matthew Newlin