It has a lousy title and an even worse trailer, but it turns out that The Croods is actually good. If that surprises you, know it surprised me just as much. Despite the fact that I hold Chris Sanders’ Lilo & Stitch (2002) in the highest esteem and think highly of his How to Train Your Dragon (2010), I was not looking forward to this. Sanders’ usual partner, Dean DeBlois, had been replaced by Kirk De Micco — a guy whose only prior directorial credit was the fairly egregious Space Chimps (2008) — and its trailer was flat. (Essentially, that trailer filled me with something less than glee.) Encountering reviews that likened it to The Flintstones TV series only made things worse. Well, here’s the thing: The Croods is nothing like The Flintstones and not much like the trailer. Oh, it’s no Lilo & Stitch and not even quite up to How to Train Your Dragon, but it’s not only entertaining, it’s pretty darn visually impressive. On occasion, it’s even rather touching.
This isn’t the moronic, noisy sitcom the trailer shows us. Oh, sure, it has elements of the sitcom and it’s on the noisy side, but there’s a lot more going on than that suggests. The story itself is not especially original. We have overprotective caveman dad, Grug (Nicolas Cage) holding his family — and his world, for that matter — together by preaching that they should be afraid of absolutely everything and that anything new is bad— no matter what. Not surprisingly — given the type of film this is — he has a rebellious, slightly more evolved daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), who is having none of this. In other words, she’s pretty standard for an animated film heroine. The fact that Eep is voiced by Emma Stone, however, makes her seem fresher than she might otherwise. This is actually one film where the high-profile voice casting really pays off — and, yes, I include Nicolas Cage in that statement.
Interestingly, the film’s characters are — literally — at different stages of evolution (Cloris Leachman’s Gran character even has a tail), but this is a world in flux. It’s even more in flux than it seems because the very land itself is breaking apart and the continents are drifting into a new configuration — something already understood by an even more evolved newcomer, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who’s prepared to lead the family to a (hopefully) more stable world. Granted, a lot of this has to do with the fact that Guy’s smitten with Eep, but that’s to be expected. After all, we’re dealing with a pretty established structure—and there’s not much reason to be inclined to help the rest of them on their own apparent merits.
This, of course, is where the film becomes the promised “first road trip ever,” but it doesn’t descend to the level that the tagline suggests since it’s actually concerned with survival — both in the lands they enter and in the landscape that’s crumbling behind them. There’s no hint of the “Are we there yet?” humor you might be expecting. It’s also here in the journey — mostly — where the film scores its biggest points, especially in its visuals. The array of colors, creatures and landscapes is the sort of thing that Oz was probably looking for and never quite found. There are moments of true grandeur here — and the starlit sky is both stunningly beautiful and strangely moving. Oh, sure, we have the usual array of life lessons, but they’re a two-way street here. Plus, the adventure aspects are surprisingly solid. It’s really a top-notch animated film. Rated PG for some scary action.
Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Co-ed of Brevard, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande