What It Is
“With every sun comes a new day, a new beginning, a new hope that things will be better,” narrates Eep (Emma Stone) at the start of The Croods. “Except for me.” Poor Eep. Not only is she a teenager with an overprotective dad and a screaming baby sister, but she’s also living in the Paleolithic era. And that means she and her family are cave people, with sloping foreheads and thick limbs. They’re strong and fast and great hunters and gatherers, but not so quick or adept when it comes to having ideas.
Eep’s father Grug (Nicolas Cage) is especially averse to ideas. He believes that he’s kept his family safe by keeping them contained, by limiting their movements and imaginations. He keeps everyone close to him, in a cave, where it’s dark and where the large, loud, sharp-toothed creatures with whom they share the planet won’t be able to reach them. “Never not be afraid,” he tells his children. “Fear keeps us alive.”
But Eep is not afraid. She wants to spend time in the sunlight, to see places she hasn’t seen before. And so, like so many movie teenagers before her, Eep ventures forth from the cave. And here, one evening, she meets a boy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds). At once thoughtful and sensitive and inclined to adventure, he seems at once the ideal new friend for Eep and her father’s most dreaded nightmare. But try as he might to chase off the newcomer, Grug soon discovers he has need of him too, when their cave is destroyed by an earthquake. When Guy turns out to have a plan — that is, escape to a faraway mountain, high ground where the coming lava and floodwaters can’t reach them — Grug, Eep, and the rest of the family move on with him.
And so, before you can say Ice Age, the cave people — including Eep’s sensible mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), ornery grandmother (Cloris Leachman), dopey brother Thunk (Clark Duke), and sensationally feral sister Sandy (Randy Thom) — are actually walking upright and in daylight for days. And they are also evolving, exploring the world beyond the dark cave, learning about themselves and each other and bonding too, in spite of themselves. As Eep develops a crush on Guy and a preference for “the light,” as they all come to call it, and as the entire family survives a series of rumbles and rainstorms and shifting tectonic plates, they realize that being afraid is actually not the best way to live, that embracing new experiences and even coming up with original solutions to problems ranging from sabre-toothed tigers to flesh-eating birds (apparently called “Piranhakeets”) to impassible crevices, is a better way.
Why It’s Fun
The animation is lively, and the 3D effects are not only not distracting, but sometimes clever. The animation provides the beings on screen with believable heft, even as they leap and climb about preposterously. The landscapes are rocky and spare, then lush and colorful; the beasts are sometimes frightening, charging at the camera with jaws snapping, and the people — who do a lot of sliding down mountainsides or pitching off cliffs — are remarkably sturdy.
While the film borrows basic visual and narrative concepts from some very famous other movies, including Avatar, Shrek, Hotel Transylvania, and even a bit of Brave, it offers a sweet, smart, but also convincingly confused girl as your guide. When she describes her feelings, about her father primarily, Eep seems especially self-aware, especially for a cave person. At the same time, she’s quite capable of some impressively brutal or wild behavior.
The cave people like to name their discoveries and inventions: this practice is sometimes cute and funny, as when Guy claims he has discovered “fire,” and Grug invents the “hug.” Guy also wears his (requisite) sidekick, a ferrety animal he calls Belt (co-director Chris Sanders), who’s prone to repeating the dun-dun-dun! made so famous in 2007 by the big-eyed Dramatic Chipmunk on YouTube (the joke is old now, yes?).
Who’s Going To Love It
Kids will like the ridiculous, brightly colored creatures, Guy’s elaborate puppets, though the episodic plot may turn tedious for them.
Fans of Despicable Me may sense a similarity in this film’s basic structure, wherein grumpy or narrow-minded adults are transformed by their interactions with children, and with girls in particular.
Fans of Emma Stone will be pleased to hear her: she has a terrifically charming voice. And Nic Cage fans will get what they’ve come to expect: a mostly loony performance tinged with warmth.
What To Be Aware Of
Some scenes show violence, when the earth moves, volcanoes erupt, and creatures pounce — on several occasions toward the camera, with mouths wide open.
Grug makes a few cracks concerning his mother-in-law, going so far as to hope that she’ll die.
Mild occasional language, including the phrases “long, sucky walk,” and “lunkhead.”
6 out of 10
Directors: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Chris Sanders, Randy Thom
Studio: DreamWorks/20th Century Fox
US General Release: March 22, 2013
UK General Release: March 22, 2013