Croods, The: Animation, Voiced by Nicolas Cage, Catherine Keener

This year’s first big animated movie from DreamWorks, The Croods, borrows heavily from the “Ice Age” movies. It’s kind of “Ice Age” plus “The Incredibles”: a pre-historic family adventure.

While “The Croods” has ample antic energy, especially in the visuals department, it struggles to have a solid identity of its own, but young, indiscriminating viewers should have good time watching it. There is not much competition in the movie marketplace right now.

This family lives in a dangerous time of continental drift, and Daddy Crood (Nicolas Cage) has kept his brood together (and alive) by confining them as much as possible to their “cave, sweet cave.” All of their neighbors have already been gobbled up by various critters.

Grug, the father, believes in fear above all and is trying his best to pass that abiding fear to the next generation, his kids, often making pronouncements such as “Darkness brings death” and “Fear keeps us alive. Never not be afraid!”

The somehow generic family unit includes his wife, Ugga (Catherine Keener), two teenagers—the rebellious Eep (Emma Stone) and the idiot Thunk (Clark Duke)—and his crabby mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman). There’s also a manic baby to throw around. The family does everything together, from hunting for its dinner to sleeping in one big dog pile every night.

But Eep, who offers the film’s nominal point of view, is getting fed up with cave life and Dad’s fear tactics. One night, she sneaks out and chances upon a nomadic guy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who’s her age and introduces her to the magic of fire and eventually a slew of other new ideas, from shoes to surfboards.

When Guy convinces her that the family’s cave life isn’t safe anymore—and the cave’s then promptly destroyed, in the first of many cataclysms—Eep gets everyone on the move to higher ground before it’s too late.

The rest of the movie’s basically a road movie with lots of noisy narrow escapes for the acrobatic Croods, who regularly defy gravity and the laws of physics, and are at times disturbingly ravenous. Killer beasts attack, the earth cracks open, volcanoes blast, and the family, with honorary member Guy in tow, always manages to get away.

Most adult viewers will feel they’ve already seen this movie more than once before. Last year’s “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” is another one that comes to mind.

Grug’s resistant to Guy’s intelligence—and the boy’s inevitable romantic interest in his daughter—but he eventually softens, as Guy takes on a leadership role in the journey to safety. Dad finally starts to realize that the world’s changing, and there are new ways to protect his family, like using his brains for once. Unfortunately, his change of heart’s pounded into viewer’s heads with a stone club.

One of the few original (yet peculiar) things this movie has going for it is that filmmakers Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco (“Lilo & Stitch,” “How to Train Your Dragon”) introduce a veritable zoo of fantasy creatures into their prehistoric milieu. There are bird-piranhas, leopard-elephants, elephant-mice, and dog-crocodiles, to name a few. But strangest of all are the walking whales.

The Croods are a modern, sitcom-type family with twenty-first century problems that’s at the same time severely uneducated and uncivilized, practically to the point of cannibalism, living in a prehistoric world that’s at the same time a fantasy wonderland. There’s just too much going on here conceptually.

This movie, like the Croods themselves, spends a lot of time running scared, giving the impression that it doesn’t always know where it wants to go.

Jeff Farr contributed to this review.

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