It’s not too often that I’m wowed by a cartoon. Gone are the days of the Pixar “slam dunk” (in my opinion). More often than not, I find myself annoyed by an animated film – like say, Shrek that uses some catchy pop song and then has the characters dancing around like assholes almost as a concession for not having them sing a la OG Disney films. To quote Mike “Green Ogre Slob” Myers: It’s craaaaap! Which is exactly the reason I was DREADING “The Croods”, Dreamworks’ latest computer generated feature. After seeing countless bus shelters, mass transit wraparounds and AMC policy bumpers all featuring the cave-clan, I wanted to smash my head in with a rock (which was probably used as both a pillow and a dental tool in their day). But after seeing the film in glorious 3D, I have to say that I haven’t been this happy to spend time with cartoon cavemen since “The Flintstones”.
Grug (Nicolas Cage) is your average prehistoric papa. Actually, he’s probably above average because he’s good at his job: keeping his family alive. When the most important thing in your life is killing your breakfast while not getting eaten by some wild creature, fear is probably your most important instinct. But his teenage daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), is tired of being afraid. She’s sick of staying cooped up in the family cave and longs to see what’s out in the big, bad world. One night she sneaks out and meets a traveler named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who possess a really neat thing called “fire”. He warns her that the end of the world is near and he’s headed towards the mountains to survive it. Handing her a seashell that can be used to call him (should she survive the apocalypse), Guy disappears into the night. When Grug discovers Eep snuck out, he grounds her for life. This may not be all that long, as a giant earthquake hits and destroys the family’s cave just as the stranger had warned. In a moment of desperation, the girl calls Guy to the clan’s aid. Reluctantly, the now homeless Croods join him in his journey to the mountains of “Tomorrow”. But the trip won’t be easy. Grug feels this intelligent young stranger is taking control of his family and won’t let go without a fight. He also won’t let go of his old Neanderthal ways, always opting for fear over thought. With all the dangerous and exotic new creatures they encounter The Croods must either learn to evolve or become a six course meal.
This is one of the slickest, most beautiful animated works I’ve ever seen. An entire world came alive before my eyes in dazzling three dimensions – effectively eliciting the “wow-factor” from me in ways “Avatar” wished it had. Of course, with Roger Deakins on board as a visual consultant, I’m not at all surprised. While the Croods themselves are cartoony, the world around them feels very real. Photo-realistic water and lighting effects are used to enhance the environment with jaw dropping effectiveness. When the family follows the sun, or swims through the ocean or comes near a lava flow, you feel like you’re right there with them.
Writer-directors Chris Sanders and Kirk De Mikko clearly did their homework with geographical change and exotic wildlife. While the vegetation and animals found in “The Croods” are imagined, they have a very firm foundation in the real world. Much of the landscape looks like the bottom of the ocean (perhaps getting ready to become the ocean?) with stunning coral reefs and algae covered hills. Many of the creatures take cues from marine life such as whales, schools of fish and clams. It’s easy to go into sensory overload with this film. Everything is just so beautiful and each frame is packed with eye candy. I felt like a kid discovering a new world, grinning from ear to ear for the entire duration of the movie.
Complimenting the stellar visuals is an original score by Alan Silvestri. I’ve been a huge fan of the guy since that little time travel flick he did in the 80′s and was certainly relieved to see that Smashmouth wasn’t going to be used in a montage. I know it’s popular now to use Randy Newman or some other recording artist / pre-recorded track for your animated feature, but Silvestri’s instrumentals add extra emotion to the movie. During the trailers, there was a preview for the “Lord of the Rings” meets “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” animation “Epic”. It was set to some emo Snow Patrol song and made me want to either grown my hair out and drink mead or cut my arm and whine about daddy issues. Either way, I hope studios take a hint from “The Croods” and go back to real music in animated films.
I’m genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. “The Croods” earns a well-deserved 3.5 of 4 angels. This is one of the few pictures I strongly urge you to watch in 3D – it’s just that stunning. You may even find yourself wanting to plunge back into this world a second time. Great viewing for the whole family, on a date or just by yourself for a mini-vacation.