Frenetic Fun, Stone Age Family style

3 starfish

The Croods, the new 3D computer animated feature release from Dreamworks, is the story of a prehistoric family who take a road trip out of necessity. Patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage) spends every day protecting his family by alternately leading them on life-endangering family hunting trips and terrifying them into staying in their tiny cave-home with stories about everything in the outside world being potentially deadly. “Never not be afraid”, he says…Daughter Eep (Emma Stone) believes that’s no way to live. Her sense of adventure carries her farther away from the cave and her dad’s controlling nature, much like any teen looking to figure out who they are. Everything changes when their cave is destroyed in the dramatic earth shifts that are turning all they know into a barren, cracked, and lava-laden landscape.

Fortunately a nomadic young hottie named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), in the cro-mag version of designer hip hugger jeans, knows how to navigate the big bad world heretofore unknown and mysterious to Grug and his brood. Guy is one step ahead on the evolutionary scale…he uses tools, fire (baby suns!), and wears shoes.
He has a sloth pet called “Belt” who helps hold his pants in place. Needless to say he is of enormous appeal to a curious and rebellious teen daughter. Sparks fly not only from Guy’s torch but between he and Eep. The rest is all about the growth and movement forward Grog and his family must embrace to survive and thrive, which includes listening and learning from their new guide. Thank the prehistoric gods the movie is anchored with glorious visuals and a ton of action. The prerequisite scenes about acceptance, communication, and family togetherness are overly sentimental, and don’t match the overall tone of the movie. They seem clunky, and a bit shoehorned or forced. Still, your kids won’t notice their heavy handedness. They’ll be too busy enjoying the gorgeous technicolor topography and inventive looking prehistoric flora and fauna. It is all tailor-made for 3D, and enthralling for the entire audience from its teeniest to oldest members. We discover all the newness on this adventure, at the same times as the family, and this connects us together and keeps our interest.

So much is going on around us all now that makes parents feel impending doom…we are all working harder for less, sometimes not feeling sure what we have built for our families will be there tomorrow. You get the sense that these filmmakers were tapping into that with this story, creatively showing the sacrifice and optimism necessary to see a family through hardship. There is an attempt to show a bit about the human condition, the blunt necessities life drives us to, that result in this movie having a few darker undertones beyond all the frenetic doings. Death is a reality and potentially always around the next corner. To the movie’s credit, the characters don’t dwell on it, which allows for kids to enjoy all the action and excitement. Warning: There is a scene where one family member is put in mortal peril that proved to be too scary for the eight year old girl sitting a few seats from me.

This movie started out in 2005 as a stop motion Dreamworks/Aardman collaboration co-written by John Cleese called Crood Awakening, about a caveman living in a village with a prehistoric genius. That story morphed into the “first modern family” story we all see now, after Dreamworks and Aardman parted ways in 2007 and director Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch) left Disney, and chose to rework it after he created the 2010 blockbuster hit “How to Train Your Dragon”.

The story isn’t really anything new, but the advancements in computer animation are impressive. So much is changing so quickly it’s worth a trip to see in theaters just to see how lifelike and detailed they can make these cartoon creatures and their surrounding environments. Spring break is upon us. In a week with little to inspire younger moviegoers at the box office, The Croods is great fun and a pleasant diversion for the whole animation loving family.