Movie Review: “The Croods” Not Bad, But No National Treasure

Movie Review: “The Croods” Not Bad, But No National Treasure March 22, 2013

I guess I expected the latest DreamWorks animated film The Croods to be, well, crude. Hitting the theaters Friday, March, 22, 2013, written and directed by  Kirk DiMicco and Chris Sanders, The Croods, the latest addition to the DreamWorks animated vault, surprised me in a few ways.

Given DreamWorks marketplace niche of funny, endearing, but slightly irreverent films and this film’s name, I thought this one might have me recoiling on occasion or wishing I could have hit the mute button in the theater. But it wasn’t bad. No national treasure for Nicholas Cage, but not bad.

Cage provided the voice for the Crood family’s overprotective father. Even though the face said caveman, the voice had me thinking Benjamin Gates would appear at any moment with a book of secret recipes from Thomas Jefferson’s underground kitchens. Or something. It wore off a little eventually, but his voice has become so distinct (that’s a compliment to his success, by the way) that I never got over it.

Somehow, I don’t think kids will notice. Nor will they notice the film’s frollicking but predictable plot.

Same Old Story, Told in a Really Old Way

After a silly, formulaic opening sequence that we could have all done without, the film follows the evolution of the Crood family, a pleasantly barbaric group of cave people who’ve survived where no one else has. Their secret? An defensive strongman for a father and a fearful family motto: “Never not be afraid! Fear keeps us alive!!”

Well, at least it works until an earthquake pulverizes their cave and their family dynamics are threatened by every father’s nightmare – a teenage boy.

Their pristine, pre-historic bubble of scavenging is first disrupted when their teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) begins to push back on her dad’s boundaries, challenges his authority, and bumps into Guy (Ryan Reynolds). He introduces her to fire and starts her dreaming. She starts thinking he’s smart and Dad’s stupid, blah, blah, blah. [Insert teenage girl runs away from dad and after hip boy with cool hair and muscle car stereotype here.]

But Guy is not a “cavie.” He’s a thinker. A skinny, idea guy. (Not that I’m complaining about that, mind you!) He’s the opposite of Grug who’s strong, but never actually had an idea. He couldn’t be from a more different world it seems. While the Crood family inhales food with no thought of tomorrow, Guy wipes his mouth with the most genteel of manners and has leftovers.

Even compared with the powerful Eep (Cinderella she’s not), Guy’s a wimp. But then Eep’s a bizarre concoction herself. Think what would happen if Sylvester Stallone and Mary Lou Retton had a daughter — and you’ll get the idea.

The rest of the visually impressive film is spent with the Croods running for their lives as the world falls apart around them. Guy begins as their captive, but gradually shifts to guide, then, finally, to the new leader of the family. Grug goes through a mid-life crisis of sorts – perhaps the earliest ever recorded – then recovers to sacrifice himself and save his family by throwing them off a cliff. (I can’t give it all away.) You’ve seen the basic plot many times before — well, maybe without the whole throw-your-mother-in-law-off-the-cliff thing.

The Old Sincere-But-Stupid Father Trick

Unfortunately, the sincere-but-stupid dad meme reminded me of the typical sitcom plot from the last three decades. If Archie Bunker had worn a loincloth and worked out, he could have doubled for Grug. And that’s my concern with this beautifully animated tale.

Our culture needs more dads willing to act courageously to protect their families. Not less. Making fun of their efforts doesn’t help. Not really. For example, when the family gets split up in a bewildering rock maze, Dad is the only one who gets lost. True, Grug does need to learn some humility and how to loosen up and walk by faith – which he does, by the way. But the dad-bashing seems gratuitous at times.

After all, as he admits to Guy when trapped in a tar pit (talk about bonding), “I guess I was just busy keeping them all alive.” I’m betting alot of dads can relate today. To his credit, Guy replies maturely, “That’s all right. It’s what dads do.”

Bringing Up Father

The film does redeem itself a bit on this point with a touching moment between Dad and daughter just before he tosses her off the cliff. She’s learned to appreciate his protection, and he her fiery strength – a strength a lot like his own. And Ep does have my favorite line from the film when she says of their former fearful ways, “That wasn’t living. That was not dying. There’s a difference.” [ Tweet this! ]

But the film’s emotional climax once again leaves us with an anti-father statement. Without giving too much away, the family makes it to safety “into tomorrow.” But dad gets left behind, alone in the symbolic stone-age past. The only way for him to reconnect with the rest of society is to figure out how to adapt his strengths to the new realities. His family misses him, to be sure, but he can only return to them if he evolves.

In a culture today that already views anything older than last month with cynicism, I’m not sure we need another story encouraging us to discard our past and merge with whatever’s next.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for walking by faith. Those who’ve followed this FaithWalkers blog for a while know that. Total risk-aversion doesn’t work in the real world. This film is all about letting go of the old, safe ways and throwing yourself – literally at times – into tomorrow.  Yet as a culture and as families, we also need caves. The trick is balancing the two tensions. And that, I suppose is what The Croods tries, but in my opinion fails, to do.

Who Will Like This Movie?

My kids. And most parents. Dads and daughters should see it together. Prepare for hugs to ensue.

As a Christian and father of six kids, I always have an eye out for what might be offensive for the family. Except for some rude manners and cartoonish violence (think Wile E. Coyote with better animation), I didn’t see anything in particular. The daughter doesn’t wear as much clothing as I would have liked, and she acts like the cave woman she is so don’t be expecting lady-like behavior.

And don’t worry about whether or not you agree with certain evolutionary or creationist worldviews. Nothing in this film is based on anything remotely scientific so all such sensibilities will be equally offended.

It’s got more laughs than I expected. I might even see it on video once or twice, though likely not much more than that. Colorful, funny, predictably irreverant – typical DreamWorks. And Nicholas Cage was good, even without discovering any prehistoric bifocals.

When Family Matters

Ultimately, I guess the film is about family and what matters most when a crisis comes like, oh – I don’t know – say, when the earth blows up and massive rock formations crush your home and leave you with nothing but each other. Or the teenage years strike. In that sense, it’s a good reminder for us parents about what really matters. And that list is shorter than we’d like to think.

I am a little concerned that some more adventurous viewers may try to enact a new sport – family-tossing. But I’m sure you’re kids are smarter than that.


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