Review: ‘The Croods’ Tells an Age-Old Story. Again. And Oddly.

Review: ‘The Croods’ Tells an Age-Old Story. Again. And Oddly. March 21, 2013

Perhaps it’s time for a new narrative.

The Croods, an imaginative but uneven 3D animated offering from Dreamworks Animation, attempts to tell a story as old as charcoal sketches on a cave wall, but ends up with a confusing and thoroughly modern message.

Like Rapunzel in Tangled, Mavis in Hotel Transylvania, and Merida in Brave, Eep (voice of Emma Stone) chafes at her family’s restrictions. She just wants to spread her wings, fly… you know…have adventures. And her mean old dad just wants to lock her up and keep her from fun, friends, adventure, and the outside world.

But Dad has a point.

Eep, dad Grug, and the entire clan are cave people and the world outside is a terrifying mix of predators with big teeth and predators with even bigger teeth. The safest place is snuggled inside the cave, a big rock blocking the door.

So plucky, spunky, feisty Mavis…I mean Merida…I mean Eep bucks the system, flees the restrictions, and finds not only a dreamy boy who can control fire but a chance to save her family from destruction.

See what I mean that it must be time for a new narrative? Just once, I’d like to see a different set-up.

Some of these films tell this story well (Brave, Tangled), but it can’t be the only story facing children out there. What’s happening in America? Are there really scores of concerned but overprotective parents locking their daughters in padded rooms and not letting them experience any adventures?

Actually, maybe Hollywood has a point.

This particular version of the story has some beautiful, tender moments and a moment of self-sacrifice that soars into something lovely. It also boasts some amusing characters, especially the cantankerous grandmother who refuses to die (Cloris Leachman). In the style of an old fashioned Wile E. Coyote cartoon, the violence is unbelievably over the top and yet inconsequential in its impacts.

In real life, you can only have a multi-ton boulder dropped on you so many times before starting to feel the effects, but in the cartoons, more’s the merrier.

My favorite aspect of the movie, however, was the imaginative world drawn out of a prehistoric setting. No attempt is made to be accurate and this results in some fantastic creatures, half Dr. Seuss and half paleontology. They come as delightful surprises. Some of the artwork is quite lovely.

Sadly, all this promise is mixed with a confusing and downright ridiculous message that is pounded over the children’s heads like, well, a multi-ton boulder.

The surface moral, such as it is, goes something like this: “Sometimes you have to leave your cave and jump off a cliff and ride the sun.” The deeper moral, and redeeming quality of the flick, is self-sacrifice, but it doesn’t have a slogan like the cliff jumping does.

We could probably do some mental calisthenics and find a sweet moral metaphor in “Leave the cave, jump off the cliff, ride the sun.” But the movie doesn’t let us. It’s not a metaphor. They have to literally jump off a cliff. And literally – I’m still a  bit confused on this as I’m sure the screenwriters are as well – they have to ride the sun.

So when the moment of self-sacrifice comes and characters are being hurled into an abyss, part of your brain thinks “how beautiful” and part thinks “Wait..wait..they’re jumping off a cliff. That seems ill-advised.”

It doesn’t quite jive, you see?

So if you’re looking for a movie to enjoy with the kiddos with a muddled but nice message and some good, clean jokes, you’re in luck. The film is a steady stream of cartoon violence, but doesn’t have the kind of veiled inappropriate jokes that set parents’ teeth on edge. Rated PG, It’s a little odd, a little weird at times, but it means well.

It will hardly be a family favorite or a classic, but neither will you regret it.

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