It’s interesting when the circumstances surrounding the release of a new film are just as intriguing as the film itself. The latest from DreamWorks Animation, the prehistoric family adventure The Croods, has a lot at stake. Not only is this the first DreamWorks Animation film to be released through 20th Century Fox, but it’s also the production company’s first film since Rise of the Guardians, which disappointed at the box office and partly contributed to the company letting go more than 350 employees earlier in the year.
That being said, when it comes to juding a film, it ultimately boils down to whether the film is worthwhile or not. And though there are issues with the character design and the unbalanced approach to the theme of the story, The Croods is saved by a genuinely heartwarming family dynamic, some wonderful creatures and a more jovial approach compared to past DreamWorks features.
The film, directed by Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon and Kirk De Micco), is about the Croods, a modern Stone Age family living in a prehistoric world on the verge of change. The father, Grug (Nicolas Cage), is so overprotective of his family that the family spends days at a time in its cave, away from the outside world. Though the other family members are content with the father’s orders, the eldest daughter Eep (Emma Stone) desperately wants to see the outside world.
One night she comes across Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a journeyman capable of making fire and tools, who warns Eep of an impending catastrophe that he calls “the End,” not an imaginative name, but a name that illustrates a charming aspect of the film — that everyone speaks with a childlike lack of subtlety and etiquette, something which makes the characters more sympathetic.
When an earthquake destroys their cave, the Croods must face a dangerous world to find a safe haven on the other side of the giant mountain in the distance. So, think The Land Before Time except with people rather than talking baby dinosaurs.
An issue with the structure of the plot is that each act seems to have a separate theme: The first act is about the father-daughter relationship between Grug and Eep, the second is about facing the dangers of the world while staying together as a family and the third focuses just on Grug’s effort to “evolve” in order to save his family.
The reason for this might have been because when the film was originally going to be an Aardman Animation production back in 2007, the plot was mostly about the conflict between Grug and Guy. Though this might be the fault of the film’s marketing, which seemed to place Eep as the lead, the shift in focus is unexpected.
The dynamic among the family keeps the film together. Once they’re out of the cave, the uncivilized wild nature of the different members is let loose, like the pudgy Thunk (Clark Duke), the feisty elder Gran (Cloris Leachman) and the ferocious toddler Sandy (Randy Thom). Even the relationship between Eep as Guy goes differently than other young romances, with Eep being the hyper-aggressive super-strong one in the couple and Guy as the startled one.
The world the family inhabits is a world gone wild. The concept design department really brings its A-game to the environments and creatures. Instead of just going with a Flintstones knock-off, the designers created something really interesting and unique.
There should also be a shoutout to the Spirit of Troy marching band, which colloborated with composer Alan Silvestri in an opening chase sequence that proved to be the highlight of the musical score.
It’s a shame, then, that the same inventiveness wasn’t used in the design of the main characters. Instead of just looking like cavemen, the attempts to make them look more “normal” are jarring, like their hyper-realistic eyes or the sharp cheekbones. The look of the characters is way too gentrified, especially Guy’s design.
If you don’t pay attention to that kind of detail, you won’t mind too much. For those who do pay attention to character design, however, no matter how much you end up liking these characters, it’s really hard to get over the flaws in their look. It’s more disappointing when you know Chris Sanders, whose character drawings are some of the most recognizable in the industry, is at the helm.
Looking past the character designs though, The Croods is an enjoyable family adventure with some great-looking animals and a more alternative take on the “modern Stone Age family” than other films in the genre.
It’s not clear if this film is the start of a new successful era for DreamWorks Animation or just another bump in the road for a company that’s already weathered several rough patches lately. Still, if you have a close-knit and partially crazy family, there’s plenty to like about The Croods. And that likely connection with the audience might be this film’s true saving grace.