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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Croods Movie Review

Dreamworks Animation has put out some solid animated films: Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Rise of the Guardians, Madagascar. All were enjoyable stories with excellent animation supported by charismatic and engaging voice talent. Their latest effort, The Croods, explores the life of the "first family," no, not the one in the white house, the one that lived in a cave thousands of years ago.

Apparently family life back then wasn't too different from the way it is now: parents did their best to protect their kids, dads hated their mother-in-laws (well, mostly) and teenagers felt compelled to rebel. In this case, the dad Grug (Nicolas Cage) keeps his family safe and protected in a cave and instills a healthy sense of fear into each family member. He tells bedtime stories about people who try new things and all end up dead. Fear and routine are staples of the Crood diet.

Daughter Eep (Emma Stone) resents dad's iron fisted control and yearns for adventure. When a strange flickering light is visible at night outside the cave, Eep sneaks off to investigate, meeting up with Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a young nomad who has learned to harness fire.

Grug awakens, sees that Eep is missing and goes off to find her. This leads to the entire family fleeing the cave just in time to escape a cataclysmic earthquake that destroys their home. As the Crood family leaves in search of a new cave, Guy shows them that they don't have to hide in their little hole in fear of the world. In fact, he convinces them that staying put may be hazardous to their health as massive geological change is is reshaping the landscape, making their current digs dangerous.

So off the Croods go on an adventure. Along the way they encounter strange, beautiful and, in some cases, dangerous flora and fauna. They discover flowers that eat you, monkeys that beat you, and big cats that greet you with a saber-toothed smile. But more importantly they discover a sense of appreciation for the unique qualities that each brings to the table. Grug acknowledges that Guy may have some good ideas, that his daughter may be right to want to explore the world and that his mother in law actually isn't so bad after all.

The film features some really spectacular animation. Plant and animal life in this version of pre-history are full of bright colors and intricate details. Dust and rock clouds that result from tectonic upheaval are presented with almost photorealistic detail, as are the fine hairs that bristle in Grug's beard. I look forward to the Blu-ray 3D version of this as it will make a great home theater demo with bold visuals and an exciting and enveloping soundtrack. Comparisons have been made to Avatar in the film's color-rich, visually exciting presentation, and I think that comparison has some merit.

But, despite some funny gags and tender moments of father-daughter bonding, the story and dialog are a little thin. The action is exciting and can get intense but the characters are not revealed to have much depth or substance. Overall, it's an impressive technical achievement, but less so from a story-telling perspective.

The two nine-year old boys who accompanied me to the screening enjoyed the film immensely (except the few romantic moments) and I expect it will play well with the younger crowd. By all means, bring the kids for a pleasant distraction but don't expect any life-changing revelations.

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