The Croods

The Flintstones meets Avatar

The Croods

Rating The CroodsThe CroodsThe CroodsThe Croods

Written and directed by Chris Sanders, Kirk De Micco. Featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman.

Note: The Croods is screening in a Czech-dubbed version in most cinemas, but it’s playing in English (and 3D) at Cinema City Slovanský dům.

The Flintstones meets Madagascar, with a dash of, uh, Avatar, of all things, in The Croods, a solid-enough piece of caveman-themed eye candy from Dreamworks Animation, following Madagascar 3 and Rise of the Guardians, which were (respectively) critical and box office disappointments for the studio in 2012.  

The Croods, which opened worldwide to mixed-to-positive reviews and a healthy box office total this past weekend, gives the studio a brighter outlook for 2013, though Dreamworks has still failed to take much advantage of Pixar’s recent stumbling (Cars 2, Brave) the past two years.

Taking the Madagascar approach to audience targeting, The Croods is bright, colourful, and loud: the under-six crowd should be appropriately distracted. Whether the candy-coated sugar rush is good for them is another story, but at least the film attempts to balance it out with (expectedly) heavy-handed thematic syrup involving the value of family and taking chances. 

The film’s best moments – mostly at the beginning – feel like something taken from a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon, with characters being thrown around the screen like ragdolls in pursuit of their breakfast. 

That breakfast is the egg of a prehistoric ostrich-like creature, sought by caveman Grug (Nicolas Cage) and his Neanderthal family: “wife” Ugga (Catharine Keener), son Thunk (Clark Duke), daughter Eep (Emma Stone), mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman) and the silent – but deadly – Baby. While the characters are thinly-sketched, the star-studded voice cast is pretty fun, particularly Cage, well-cast as the caveman father. 

I felt a little uneasy watching these characters rob a mother bird of her unborn egg and then sucking the yolk out of it with unbridled vigor in this children’s film, but hey: those were the times, and I expect nothing less than brutal realism out of The Croods. Soon, the family is (literally) eating their way out of a giant fowl for dinner. Vegetarians take note. 

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In any event, that realism doesn’t exactly hold up; after some foreboding warnings from the slightly-more-civilised Guy (Ryan Reynolds), the Croods’ world (read: cave) comes crashing down amidst mighty earthquakes, and the play-it-safe, take-no-chances Grug and family have to fend for themselves in the great wilderness. (What, exactly, is going on here? I think – think – a brief prologue tried to lay the blame on Continental Drift. Lame.) 

The great wilderness, now, feels more like an alien planet than anything earthbound. Swarms of bright red piranha birds that engulf giant land-whales in a tornado swarm, rainbow-colored sabre-tooth tigers, chameleon-like weasel dogs, ferocious owl-cats, and all other manners of weird and wonderful creatures. I’m not sure what, exactly, writers-directors Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders were going for here (all the weirdness seems to subvert that Flintstones realism) but they certainly had my attention. 

To go with all the purdy visuals, the computer animation is excellent – fluid and richly detailed, it manages to create a lifelike realism while maintaining an appealing cartoonish quality; it’s some of the best work of its kind I’ve yet to see. In 3D, the additional depth and texture of the animation actually manages to add enough to offset the technology’s limitations.  

The Croods won’t be a game-changer for Dreamworks or for general audiences, but it’s a bright, loud, pleasant-enough diversion that won’t entirely insult parent’s sensibilities. Kids, meanwhile, should eat it up like candy.

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