Typical of contemporary animated features, The Croods looks great but is overly reliant upon slapstick and cheap jokes. Whereas stop-motion films like Frankenweenie or ParaNorman and Pixar’s annual offering shoot for stories all ages can relish, the latest from Dreamworks aims directly for young viewers and limits its impact in the process. In tracing a caveman family’s flight from safety into the unknown, the titular clan encounter a new world of lush landscapes and hybrid creatures that’s endlessly pleasing for the eyes. Their adventures, however, are unable to match the visual wonder around them and makes for a largely forgettable film.
The introduction to each Crood, though, suggests otherwise. In a stunning opening set piece, everyone from ancient Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman) down to baby Sandy (Randy Thom) speeds around the desolate valley floor in pursuit of food with the blur-fast legs of Dash from The Incredibles. Acquiring a giant egg and retreating to their cave before a predator can eat them, the sequence encapsulates the family’s existence, one from which teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) wants to escape. But since that life is all she knows, her quest for independence feels unfounded, as do the numerous modern encroachments that permeate the story.
Being an animated children’s film, especially one set in an age of grunts and gestures, The Croods necessitates a suspension of disbelief. Directors Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders need not shoot for verisimilitude (no one wants to see a kid-friendly take on 2001: A Space Odyssey’s ape segment), yet even with an “anything goes” freedom, their basic narrative frequently falters. Once the Croods are forced out of their home due to its destruction by shifting tectonic plates, the bulk of the film’s issues arise from the appearance of Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a human who’s more advanced for no discernible reason. As his cave-free ingenuity clashes with the tried-and-true conservatism of paterfamilias Grug (Nicolas Cage), a slew of futuristic references are tossed about, most of which fall flat. The result is a jumble of prehistoric and current details at which little ones will squeal with delight while more discerning viewers tune out.
Smoothing down these rough edges is a surplus of imagination. Though the Croods themselves are fairly basic, practically everything around them is an inspired creation. The best of the bunch are the plethora of mid-evolution animal combinations, including such critters as a crocodile dog, piranha toucans, and quadruped whales. Still, interactions with these wonders often involve characters running into objects or getting hit by projectile, a lazy schtick made all the more tiresome by the film’s lack of a villain. In an environment where each man-eater is a potential pet, danger is the true endangered species. Without it, The Croods is merely mediocre entertainment and no full-family treat.
Rated PG for some scary action.
The Croods is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.