The Croods follows the Croods, a family of cavepeople just about surviving by venturing out of their shelter every morning to risk grabbing an egg or two. Father Grug (voiced by Nicholas Cage, doing his best Nicholas Cage impression) is overprotective, which is frustrating rebellious, hyperactive daughter Eep (Emma Stone). Things change quickly with the arrival of mysterious wanderer Guy (Ryan Reynolds), bringing with him a strange new concept known only as ‘fire’. Eep is smitten with Guy and fire, but their arrival is swiftly followed by the destruction of the Croods’ home valley. With Pangaea breaking up right behind them – in cinema, you can always outrun an apocalyptic event – the Croods are forced to embark on a road trip to the safety of high ground. Guy reluctantly decides to join them, much to the displeasure of conservative old Grug, who isn’t so fond of the stranger’s new ‘ideas’.
You know the drill: manic setpieces, pretty animation, wacky animal sidekicks, a highly sentimental third act etc… The focus is mostly on the relationships between Grug, Eep and Guy, in which they all learn to appreciate each other as the story dictates. The rest of the Croods – voiced by Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman and Clark Duke (there’s also a mandatory hyperactive infant) – are mostly left on the sidelines. The animation is technically proficient, the action loud and ridiculous.
There’s a hint of originality in the light evolutionary concepts explored in the film – the primitive Croods are eventually forced to adapt to a more conscious way of acting to survive the trials they face, with Grug the last one to hop on the ‘thinking’ bandwagon. This generally Darwinian element is welcome. The filmmakers also have the opportunity to subvert expectations with a poignant, devastating and thematically appropriate endnote. They even bravely build it up for a good fifteen minutes before they chicken out. What happened to the good old days of traumatising children with a death scene now and again? Come back, Bambi, all is forgiven!
All this is grand, and kids will be entertained. There’s been worse, there’s been better. But Chris Sanders undoubtedly has better material than this in him. Let us hope that one day he has the bravery and financial resources to bring them to life. American animation is stagnating, and people like Sanders need to be given the opportunity to challenge that. But hey, this will make bucketloads of money. In the end, isn’t that all that really matters?
The answer is yes.
G (see IFCO website for details)
The Croods is released on 22nd March 2013