Published Mar 21, 2013During the opening moments of The Croods, Chris Sanders' follow-up to the better than expected How to Train Your Dragon, the titular family is introduced as practical cavemen that only emerge from their cave at key times to collect food. Save curious teen daughter Eep (Emma Stone), the Croods are comfortable living a sheltered, survivalist life, following the lead of their physically apt patriarch, Grug (Nicolas Cage).
A surprisingly dark-humoured opening montage establishes the threats of the environment, detailing how other local families have been wiped out, and an astonishing, frenetic, exceptionally executed action sequence establishes the hunting dynamic and an understanding of the 3D medium not often demonstrated in children's animated fare.
But, as the many self-conscious jokes about storytelling as a pedagogical tool suggest — Grug routinely tells tales about curious children that die while exploring — the impetus is that of reminding people, and more disturbingly, children, to take risks and follow their heart.
Eep leaves the cave at night-time, ignoring her father's instructions, meeting the progressive, metrosexual Guy (Ryan Reynolds). In addition to knowing how to make fire, which is in turn used as a trajectory gag, he warns of an impending apocalypse and urges Eep to flee the caves for higher ground. A sense of curiosity and a stirring in her loins compel her to listen.
Driving home the didactic is the resulting familial quest. While unknown threats loom at every turn — sabre-toothed tigers, tar and a horde of birds reminiscent of the creatures in Pitch Black — the risk proves worthy, bringing the cavemen out of the cave to experience life and embrace progress.
Ignoring the fact that the world would come to a grinding halt if everyone were suddenly to follow his or her heart, and thusly rendering most of the subtext moot, the overprotective father story arc is almost a redundancy in the world of animated fare. It's as though the many jokes about exploiting storytelling to control the masses throughout the film are unable to look inwards and evaluate just what it is The Croods is trying to communicate, idealistic, glibly optimistic, posturing aside.
This leaves the emotional and cerebral component of the film marginal, which is especially problematic when the darker material will likely stress out younger viewers. The animation is flawless and the impeccably orchestrated action sequences are astonishing when viewed in 3D, but this eventually gives way to the irresponsible void that is the heart of the story. (Fox)