Dreamworks' newest animated feature The Croods is a really mixed bag of a movie. As of last week, it was the number one movie in the country, with sales numbers on par with How to Train Your Dragon and well above Rise of the Guardians, the studio's last effort. I did not have high hopes going into this movie. After seeing it though I can say that while far from perfect, it was not as awful as I was expecting.
Nothing about the premise seemed particularly gripping. Caveman girl Eep dreams about a world outside of her cave until one day a natural disaster forces her, her family, and the sexy new guy (named Guy for ease of character understanding) to journey across a vibrant prehistoric land and discover the true meaning of life and family. That is literally the entire story. No spoilers, plot twists, or anything else. The story goes from Point A to Point B with a boring amount of predictability and the cliche emotional trappings. Saucy grandma for laughs. Check. Funny baby. Check. Mute but amusing animal companion. Check, check, check, and check. Emotional moment that taps into basic and unoriginal triggers like loving a parent. Big old check.
There are jokes, but good ones are few and far between. Most of the writing feels a lot like a sitcom, with mother-in-law jokes, funny noises and voices, and gags at the father's expense. I will give Dreamworks credit for not relying on their usual trick of slapping in pop culture references to get a chuckle or two. In a movie like this, jokes like that would easily turn it into a bad imitation of The Flintstones. The most fun parts of the movie for me were the 2-D intro sequence and the subsequent family hunting trip that introduces the characters. It was great design followed by fun action. Too bad the story had to show up. The funniest bits after that were the ones that highlighted the bestial nature of the Croods, such as wearing shoes for the first time, beating up on one another almost constantly, or learning what a "brain" and "ideas" are.
The characters are also really hit and miss. I did find Gran and Baby Sandy to be funny, if a bit old hat. I would not be surprised at all to see some shorts starring Sandy and Belt, Guy's sloth companion, in the future. Eep takes the concept of "strong" female protagonist a bit literally, but even though she is the driving force of the story early on, she kind of disappears halfway through. It is then that the focus shifts to the conflict between protective Cavedad Grug and the innovative Guy. I actually really enjoyed the dynamic between these two. As a proper Homo sapiens (with pants and everything), Guy is desperate to get away from the brutish Croods who have effectively taken him hostage so that his "ideas" can help them find a new home. Watching him squirm under Eep's girlish infatuation and Grug's ham-fistedness makes for some fun and fresh emotion. It's just a shame that it had to vanish in the second act once everyone started to like each other.
Early on, emphasis was placed on how gorgeous the film looked. On that count I really can't disagree. While I'm still not sure how I feel about the main character designs, the set pieces and background creatures are like something straight out of Avatar if it had been designed by someone with more imagination. The bizarre animal fusions and lush backgrounds are pure eye candy that might actually make seeing it in 3-D worth it. The Croods is easily one of Dreamworks best looking films, although I still prefer the magical fantasy of Rise of the Guardians in terms of sheer awe-factor.
While The Croods doesn't reinvent the wheel, it is a fun watch despite a wandering plot and inconsistent writing. You don't need to club your date on the head and drag them by the hair to go see it, but there's no need to just let it go extinct either.*
*Note: the writers and admins of Cartoons for Breakfast do not condone head clubbing or hair-dragging...unless that's what you're into, you sick little monkey.