[insert never before used "modern stone age family" joke here]
Usually when Dreamworks Animation decides to release yet another animated film, I ignore it thinking that I would end up watching more of the same old, same old. Yet every now and again, one of their films catches my eye for no discernible reason. Maybe the premise is unique, maybe the characters have some kind of kooky art style, or maybe they cast an actor so perfect for a role it makes the entire film better.
Okay enough beating around the bush. Nicolas Cage voices a caveman. If that doesn't attract your attention I don't want to be friends anymore.
The Croods are a family of six cavepeople (that number is very important) that never leaves their cave (because they're following directions left by paintings on the cave walls) in order to survive the harsh world, but Eep (Emma Stone) is adventurous and wants to see what the world has to offer besides her boring cave life. One night she ventures out of the cave against her father Grug's (Nic Cage) wishes and meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds). A man who has evolved a bit more that the crude Croods and knows that they're world is going through massive, dangerous change (as Pangaea separates into the continents). After an earthquake, their cave is destroyed so the Croods are now forced to travel with Guy and explore the rest of the world in order to survive the changing world.
Let me start off by declaring The Croods is absolutely gorgeous. As weird as this is going to sound, the Croods' skin is beautifully crafted. You can see every little hair, layer of dirt, scar, and as each character interacts with water, part of their body is cleansed. One of the neatest aspects of these dirty characters is when one of them cries, it leaves a clean streak within their dirt that lingers for the duration of a scene. And since it is imperative for the Croods' outside world be attractive to the characters, the world is beautifully designed. The creatures are all mixes of several different species put together (For example, there's a giant sabertooth tiger with green, white, pink, and yellow fur) , the environments are full of striking color (this is especially noticeable when the Croods see stars for the first time), and the admittedly inspired action sequences (unfortunately, a good amount of them are given away in the trailer) animate with an appreciated flow.
All of this beautiful animation wouldn't mean much if the central family wasn't charming. Good thing that's not a problem. They're all delightfully naive of the new world around them, yet have a strong family dynamic that's needed to carry the story forward. Having the father force his family to stay inside of a cave could have been thematically problematic, as it turns the father into a feared figure rather than the intended protective one, but their fearful demeanor is explained well enough and comes from a more heartfelt place without feeling awkward. The only drawback to their naivete is the over reaction gag (the Croods react aggressively to every little thing they don't recognize) loses impact through overuse. While it starts out as a charming characterization for the cavemen, it just grows tired as the film relies on it a few too many times.
As for the voices behind the Croods, it's a little more hit or miss. Emma Stone does a fair job at seeming curious and spunky but ends up just being Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds is just Ryan Reynolds with no real reaches one way or the other, and Clark Duke is the only miscast actor as Thunk. Thunk is shy, fearful, and potentially has a personality, but Duke's delivery fails to, well deliver, on Thunk's promising character. As mentioned in the intro, however, Nic Cage is the true standout. And since Grug plays such a pivotal role, and carries the brunt of the film's story, casting anyone other than Cage could have been detrimental. Cage completely throws himself into the caveman persona. There are moments throughout the film that require him to, for lack of a better phrase, "ooga booga" and Cage's delivery is pure magic.
Unfortunately despite all of this bursting personality, The Croods' story is regrettably weak. Sure you can argue that because this is a children's movie I shouldn't expect a quality story, but that's not an acceptable excuse anymore. The thing is, Croods starts out extremely promising with a well paced introductory sequence that isn't shoddily crammed with easy jokes, but the story pace stagnates as soon as they leave the cave (which is completely unfortunate for a film about a journey). The whole thing could be boiled down to: Dad is set in his ways, Daughter rebels, Dad realizes daughter is growing up, Dad accepts it. The film relies too much on its fantastical setting to differentiate itself from other films of its ilk.
All in all, The Croods isn't particularly memorable but it does make for a good ride. The Croods themselves are so full of charming quirks that I am willing to look past a lot of the film's flaws (like Belt (Guy's pet lemur)'s use of "dun dun duuun." Still, my four year old cousin loved the heck out of it and still hasn't stopped repeating it), the film's scrumptious use of color made for some nice set pieces, and the film's familial heart shines through in one surprisingly inventive cave painting sequence toward the end of the film that I don't want to spoil here.
And to tell you the truth, I didn't realize how many problems I had with The Croods until I sat down and wrote this review. All I could think of immediately afterwards was "that was a pretty good kid flick" That's an experience hard to come by, and when it does, you shouldn't pass up the chance to witness it. Even if you completely disagree with me, your kids will love the slapstick comedy and you'll love Caveman Cage.