Despite stockholders prematurely panicking when Rise of the Guardians failed to take off in its opening weekend, DreamWorks Animation seems to be really picking up steam creatively. How to Train Your Dragon is as close to Pixar quality as the company has ever come creatively, and between that, the Kung Fu Panda franchise and the wonderful Rise of the Guardians, they are starting to really turn on the pressure for movie fans and critics to take them seriously. While not quite up to the standards of those previous movies, The Croods is another solid outing for the animation house.
The Croods tells the story of a caveman family right about the time of the Continental Drift. Grug (Nicolas Cage) is the father of the group, a paranoid protective figure whose entire mantra in life is to avoid all new things and remain hidden in their cave to stay alive. With all the other cavemen dead, it makes sense, but as his daughter Eep (Emma Stone) says, staying alive is not the same as living.
Grug has his family built into a solid working unit, with his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), his son Thunk (Clark Duke), his mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman) and Eep proficient at hunting and gathering, while working together as a unit to stay alive. The scene that shows this is a testament to the 3D technology the movie uses, an amazing sequence that speeds along at a breakneck pace and proves that DreamWorks has mastered this technique better than almost anyone in the business.
The movie takes a turn when Eep meets a guy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who tells her that the end of the world is coming and he needs to catch the sun to ride it to a place called Tomorrow. It is at this point that the movie really takes off, as the Cavemen family are forced to have Guy lead them to safety after the earthquakes separating the continents destroys their cave.
The movie itself is a great one for the kids, with highlights including Guy’s pet named Belt and a colorful merging of different animals into unique and new creatures. Included are a land whale with feet, small mouse-elephants, pink piranha-birds and a small warthog-dog creature. Those additions alone will make this movie a giant hit with the kids, who will want as many toys as they can get, as well as have them relentlessly quoting Belt for days after seeing the movie.
As for the story, it is the typical tale of reaching for your dreams and living life without fear. While the start of the movie is a little slow going, with Grug’s refusal to adapt dragging it a bit, it picks up when the family and Guy are running for their lives. It is interesting that this is not Eep’s story, despite her starting out as the main focus. This is Grug’s story, and shows his eventual road to accepting the future.
Chris Sanders also directed How to Train Your Dragon, and while nothing has touched that story as the hallmark of DreamWorks Animation, he does create a nice little story here that will bring in the kids for the colorful creatures and allow the parents to enjoy a nice story about redemption and discovery. It’s not the best animated movie of the last year, but it is proof that DreamWorks Animation is still working at the top of their game, and have eclipsed the “pop-culture stigma” that plagued them in the past.