DIR: Chris Sanders • WRI: Chris Sanders, Kirk De Micco  • PRO: Kristine Belson, Jane Hartwell • DOP: Yong Duk Jhun • ED: Eric Dapkewicz, Darren T. Holmes •  DES: Christophe Lautrette • CAST: Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener

The details are vague, but a couple of years ago animator Chris Sanders was ‘removed’ from directorial duties on American Dog, his follow-up to Lilo & Stitch. Some sort of ‘creative differences’ had occurred between Disney management and Sanders, and the film was repurposed as the solidly inoffensive Bolt. Sanders wasn’t out of work for long, and was responsible for How to Train Your Dragon at Dreamworks – not exactly paradigm shifting stuff, but a smart script and direction ensured it was the best non-Pixar mainstream American animation in quite some time.I open with this brief career synopsis as the idealist in me likes to think Mr. Sanders’ ideas for American Dog were simply too bold and offbeat for the House of Mouse. The man is a genuine talent, and I’d love to see what he’d do when unshackled by the formulaic demands of the major animation studios. Alas, there’s no real spirit of rebellion or imagination present in The Croods, co-directed by Sanders and Kirk DeMicco. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this hybrid of The Flintstones and Ice Age: Continental Drift – it’s perfectly competent stuff with a few decent ideas. Yet there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about it either: another victim of the increasingly familiar formula few American cartoons have been brave enough to depart form. Shame on me, perhaps, for even expecting anything better.


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.


Stephen McNeice

G (see IFCO website for details)

The Croods is released on 22nd March 2013

The Croods – Official Website


1 Comment

  1. The only thing that sold me about this movie is that Nicholas Cage is in it, and you wouldn’t be able to tell. Thankfully, he wasn’t the best thing about this movie. Good review Steve.

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