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Croods, The
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by Jay Seaver

"'Croods' is surprisingly well-built for kids' stuff."
4 stars

Not that the kids in the audience will care that much, but I'd like to know just how much John Cleese material is left in "The Croods". Probably very little, and I'd like to see what that movie would have been like. Probably still weird but enjoyable, just in a different way.

Natural selection hasn't been good to cave people, with the Crood family - father Grug (voice of Nicolas Cage), mother Ugga (voice of Catherine Keener), teenage daughter Eep (voice of Emma Stone), son Thunk (voice of Clark Duke), baby Sandy, and Ugga's mother Gran (voice of Cloris Leachman) - still hanging in there because Grug has them retreat to safety at the first sign of danger, much to Eep's chagrin. That changes when she sneaks out one night and meets a cute home sapiens sapiens, Guy (voice of Ryan Reynolds) who brings both fire and warning that the world is about to end.

Not our world, precisely - early shots show an Earth with Pangaea splitting into the familiar continents, but there wouldn't have been humans around then, so figure it's a wholly imaginary storybook world - one with a thoroughly amazing variety of flora and fauna, half impossible, mostly carnivorous, but all colorful and not just pretty but an ideal fit for the movie's world. They've got the exaggerated features of cartoons but also enough weight and balance to feel like genuine dangers when they need to. Take the sabertoothed tiger that follows and menaces them; his big head makes him adorable, but you wouldn't want to be between him and his dinner. The landscape itself is just as wild, and there are very few moments when there's not something on-screen worth gawking at a little.

The human and proto-human characters are well-designed, too, and surprisingly good matches for the voices in some ways. Just look and listen to Grug, for instance - he's got a flat face that suggests using his head means banging it into things, but Nicolas Cage never lets the audience miss that while he's primitive intellectually, he's fully human emotionally; we get that and how he cares about his family even as he's being too cautious and grumbling about Gran - Cage is great, actually. Eep's a pretty magnificent combination of cuteness and power, and it's kind of amazing how well the animators and Emma Stone make her funny and girlish and able to rebel without losing that she's still basically a cavegirl too. Ryan Reynolds and Guy's animators do well to give him his own personality rather than just making him the familiar sort of human amid the wierd neanderthals. The rest of the Croods are somewhat rounder cartooning, but still fit in.

They're in the middle of a fun, well-executed adventure, too. By now one expects well-composed 3D images from a DreamWorks Animation film, and having Roger Deakins on board as a visual consultant doesn't hurt matters either when it comes to mashing up all the colorful creations that the production and character designers come up with. Alan Silvestri's score is bouncy and smile-inducing, sounding like something that could have come from a Disney cartoon. There's cleverness and creativity (and generally something nifty-looking) in a lot of the problem solving Guy and the Croods manage, and while some of the dialogue isn't so fresh - there's a few of the anachronisms that became an annoying DreamWorks house style for a while and some of the grumbling about his mother-in-law and his daughter's boyfriend that Grug does was probably old in caveman times - it's sold well enough to work. Despite the title, the comedy is pretty clean, without the usual winking innuendo.

And there are a lot of little touches that make the movie work better than one might expect. The utter delight the characters take in storytelling, even when they're self-aware about it, is charming, for instance, and the opening action sequence, aside from being a bravura piece of animation that introduces us to the characters through action rather than exposition is also great for how it establishes that while Grug and the family are cautious, sometimes to a fault, he's not the coward he could otherwise seem to be. There's a smart little moment when Guy and Eep discuss the concept of "leftovers", and bits that are both philosophical and matter-of-fact in the middle of the climax.

Those bits add a certain amount of weight to the movie, but not at the expense of the big adventure, comedy, and general eye-popping. "The Croods" is not as daring as it could be in some areas, but it's also not nearly as paint-by-nummbers as it looks on first glance, either.

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originally posted: 03/24/13 17:37:50
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User Comments

5/26/13 Philip I think it's a fun caveman version of National Lampoon's Vacation. 4 stars
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  22-Mar-2013 (PG)
  DVD: 01-Oct-2013

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