‘The Croods’ is DreamWorks latest installment and one that hits all kind of high notes. It’s not a sequel and therefor already a refreshment from the studio’s line-up. Yet, ‘The Croods’ is built on age old foundations of storytelling and still manages to feel new. With family, traditional versus modern and road trip wrapped up into one film you can’t really expect too much originality. Everything does go exactly as panned out but one of the perks is that the movie is savvy enough to never question its predictability. Instead, it thrives on it and molds it into something entirely different.
The movie features a caveman family hiding away from the dangerous world they live in, day after day. Until the daughter, Eep, disobeys her father’s rules and goes out to meet a guy named Guy. Guy proclaims the world is ending and unlike any of those Mayan folk, he’s actually on to something. Eep and her family make a run for it and Guy is stuck guiding them on their way to a new home.
There are several aspects of the film that just work, but let it be known that none of those are the obvious factors of an animated feature. The cute sidekick is indeed cute, but he doesn’t even come close to stealing the show. Comedy is present but it’s more casually tagging along the ride than it is the attraction itself. The animation is fantastic. Absolutely stunning and literally groundbreaking, but even that isn’t the best part. The absolute trophy of the film is its heart. Though, with Pixar owning that trophy for many consecutive years and Disney basically inventing it, DreamWorks manages to earn it every now and again. ‘The Croods’ is as basic as animated fare can be, but the heart of the film comes from a message that hasn’t been properly executed in a long time. The one that Snow White, Cinderella and heck, even Fivel, all shared: it’s OK to chase your dreams.
Let it be known that Eep is not a mouse nor a princess. If anything, she feels more like a modern day girl than most of her female heroine counterparts. She’s absolutely beautiful, but she isn’t skinny. She’s athletic but well rounded. Basically she’s a fresh retake on what girls could be like without being thin-waisted, passive aggressive complainers. And she got the heart of a lion. Unparalleled passion, instinct of a greater goal and the will to dream regardless of what’s smart or normal. Those qualities are often found in Disney princesses and yet they never felt more at home with the energetic, bold cavegirl Eep (voiced by the never not amazingly charming Emma Stone). And while Eep is the catalyst of the story, even she isn’t even the most vital character. That role belongs to Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage who is endearing for the first time ever?). Grug is the stubborn, conservative father of Eep. He knows how to survive and that’s by not leaving the cave. Grug is excessively careful. For comedy’s sake he doesn’t encourage fun and advises his children to never not be afraid. It’s a little over the top but it signifies how easily those two rules are regarded as crazy. Yet, Grug is thinking practically. The movie opens with a summary of how the Croods’ neighbors died by living outside. Can you blame a father for not taking his wife and three children hiking every day?
Even the movie itself can’t and that’s amazing on itself. Comedies or animated movies have a long history of putting the conservative parent in the “bad guy” column only to be redeemed when he changes his ways. Again, this film doesn’t stray from the path well-known that much, but for the first time it never feels like Grug is the actual “bad guy”. Nature is. The world he tries to protect his family from, is the legitimate bad guy. There’s lava, big monsters and flesh-eating birds. Grug can’t protect his loved ones with force like Guy can with ideas and that’s the twist. A family of stone-age humans has the same problems as modern day man. The premise works wonders. Grug has to adjust to the new guy in his daughter’s life as much as he has to adjust to the new world he wonders in. He isn’t a fancy, well-traveled, well-manored (the scene where Guy tries to hold up etiquette while the Croods are devouring a meal is glorious) intellect, but he knows what he can do and what he must do. He’s a dad who protects his family the only way he knows how. He even sacrifices himself for it. Not bad for a presumed bad guy.
The heart of Croods beats through out the film. The father-daughter bond is perfectly recognizable. It has all the ups and downs you can expect from a road movie. The grandma is hilarious, the son is stupid and the baby daughter is crazy. Nothing in this film is historically correct but we get to see a mouse/elephant hybrid which is worth the price of admission alone. Pretty basic stuff but entertaining nonetheless. The last half hour lifts the movie to new heights. The heroine has reached her goal and the father has learned new ways. They even reached the top of the mountain they had to climb. The end, right? Not exactly. ‘The Croods’ doesn’t go dark or unchallenged. It does however take time to let Grug find his own way. After the movie’s premise is resolved there’s still attention left for the only one of the cast who still has to learn to deal with the world. Being aware of your faults doesn’t mean you can adapt. As if Grug’s continuing journey of self discovery isn’t enough, it’s also combined with what’s easily the most heartwarming (and quickest) friendship blooming where enemies used to be. That and a lot of important and memorable parts of the film’s journey come back to touch your heart strings. Easy ploy, maybe, but it works because it happens in a vital moment of character.
Family is important and that’s just one message the film sends out. Don’t be afraid to try new things, regardless of what you’ve been taught or how old you are. Dare to dream and believe in the unlikely. Go with your gut etc. Etc. Animation has been teaching us this lesson for quite a while. But under a wave of films that prize cynicism, prioritize comedy over story and aren’t built for a long shelf life, ‘The Croods’ is a nice exception. It’s utterly surprising and touching that a new animated flick can still tell the youth to dream. Less so if you realize it’s written by Chris Sanders, the man who helped pen ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’. This film has an effect resembling to those films. Just like that, every viewer is a kid again, reminded of the innocence and ability to dream, unscathed by skepticism and reality. ‘The Croods’ might take us back in time in several ways but more than anything, it’s a promise of a better tomorrow.