Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a pre-release screening of "The Croods", the latest film from Dreamworks Animation Studios (see Rise of the Guardians). Having only seen a couple of TV spots advertising it's impending release, I had fairly low expectations for this movie... expectations which were almost instantly justified. Strangely, I saw the beginning of this film more than once, as the 3D was malfunctioning in our theater and the technicians had to start the movie over once the issue was resolved. I therefore had a pretty good idea of what I was in for, particularly since the entire plot of the movie is more or less spelled out in an opening monologue.
The film is about the Croods, the last surviving family of cave people, who stay alive by following the "rules"... which apparently means they must remain vigilant and fearful at all times, much to the dismay of teenage daughter, Eep. She has a strong desire to explore the land around them, though her smothering father won't even entertain the idea of her discovering something new. However, Eep breaks her father's rules one night and happens upon a wanderer named Guy, who informs her of the coming apocalypse which will change their entire landscape forever. Thanks to this unexpected warning, the Croods are able to escape a destructive earthquake that decimates their beloved cave. Forced to accept Guy's help, the stubborn Grug must subject his family to a trek across dangerous and unexplored territory in their attempt to find a new home.
Now, I don't want this review to come across like I'm beating up on a defenseless child... but, here goes. I assumed this movie was going to have solid animation (which it does), but I was hoping for at least a serviceable story and semi-likable characters to push the action along. Unfortunately, neither of these things are offered in this film. None of the Croods are really featured, despite the opening monologue and first ten minutes of the film heavily focusing on Eep's character. As a result, I don't care about any of them and all I'm told is how they find it difficult to follow Grug's rules... and eventually learn to love animals.
Regardless of the juvenile nature of animated films, most at least adhere to a loose portrayal of physics and logic. In "How To Train Your Dragon", for example (a movie that this film borrows heavily from, to diminishing returns), when Hiccup falls from a flying dragon, there is no possibility in the viewer's mind that the water below will adequately cushion his fall. In this film, however, characters are constantly surviving ludicrously high falls, or being thrown hundreds of feet onto rocky surfaces without so much as a scratch. Before the obvious rebuttal of "it's a cartoon, what do you expect?" comes into play, let me just remind you that Mufasa in "The Lion King", one of the most successful cartoons of all time, died after a twenty foot drop into a stampede of wildebeests. With the lack of even a tenuous connection to reality and without any sense of danger, there's nothing to keep my interest in this film.
The whole "conflict" of this movie is Grug's stubborn insistence that everything new is to be feared, which becomes a heavy-handed and even painful metaphor throughout the entire movie. Obviously this film was not made for a 25 year-old audience, but good animated films can intertwine humor that will cater to children with coherent storytelling that can please adults. "The Croods" was made entirely for ages 3-8 who have little to no demand in their entertainment. Lest anyone think I hated everything about this movie, I must admit that the visuals are quite well done. The imagination of this pre-historic world is really fascinating to behold, it's just a shame that some will celebrate this movie because it does one thing right.
In short, I really didn't care for this film. If you are a parent and considering whether to see it, I recommend finding a babysitter to take your children to this movie. There are a few humorous bits (most of which are in the trailer), but even the little kids in my theater only laughed at about one joke out of four. My nieces and nephew enjoyed this movie to varying degrees, but the generous consensus from the adults in my party were of the "it's not one I'm going to buy" variety. I give "The Croods" two stars.
THE CROODS is rated PG for some scary action