That Hanna-Barbera classic will forever form the Bedrock of prehistoric, animated shenanigans. It might seem like a tall order for DreamWorks and Fox to consider introducing a new family to the neighbourhood, but wait til you meet The Croods: the (new) modern stone-age family.
There’s the over-protective patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage), who teaches his family to ‘fear everything.’ His wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), son Thunk (Clark Duke), mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman) and hilariously feral baby all thoughtlessly comply, but not his fearless daughter Eep (the perfectly named Emma Stone). She is suffering from one hell of a case of cabin/cave fever, and wants nothing more than to live in the light.
It turns out teen girls and their fathers really have been knocking heads since time-immemorial, as Eep and Grug harrumph around at an impasse, until they go through tectonic shift…literally. Forced to flee their cave and traverse across the big, bright world, The Croods start to take on the retro comedic stylings of another famous family: the Griswolds. The dynamic changes yet further when the fire-wielding Guy (Ryan Reynolds) bursts onto the scene like some prehistoric hippy – complete with a precocious pet ‘belt’ (‘voiced’ by co-writer/director Chris Sanders).
Homo sapien to Grug’s homo neanderthalensis, Guy quickly becomes the brains of the outfit, threatening Grug’s bear hug hold on his clan. And herein lies my one quibble with this fabulous film: wasn’t this supposed to be Eep’s story?
She opens the movie with endearing narration and dominates much of the first act, setting the audience up for what looked to be the next in line of female-driven family films. (We’ve recently seen a spunky Rapunzel in Tangled, a fearless lassie in Brave, and one could also argue Vanellope gives Wreck it Ralph a run for the titular character's money). But once Guy grooves onto the scene, the focus largely shifts onto his brains vs. brawn rivalry with Grug, leaving Eep to swoon from the sidelines and coo over shoes. Sure, Emma Stone makes that lots of fun to watch – there’s even a great line in there countering our body conscious society, where Guy tells the wonderfully muscular, thick-thighed Eep “You’re really heavy!” And she replies with absolute delight “Ohh thank you!” – but Easy A fans also know Stone can easily carry a film, so why not let her?
Eep does manage to muscle her way back into the third act to a certain extent, where daughter and dad will pull at your heartstrings, while the animation will simply blow you away. Dreamworks have unquestionably outdone themselves with the craftsmanship and creativity on display in The Croods. The kinetics of the opening hunt is absolutely superb, and as the world breaks apart dusty rock to reveal a riot of colour, it’s as if the animators have made it their mission to conquer Avatar. The 3D follows suit with beautiful depth, seamless movement, as well as a few cheeky camera bombs to keep the kiddies jumping in their seats.
Indeed co-writers/directors Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch) and Kirk De Micco (Space Chimps) have certainly found that sweet spot for entertaining kids and adults alike. Much of that can be put down to great casting, as Nic Cage mixes some Homer Simpson into his Kick Ass concerned parent shtick to hilarious effect. And Grug’s running gag about wishing his mother in law has carked-it always manages to get a laugh thanks to Cloris Leachman’s infectious cackle. Reynolds and especially Keener are given a little less to do, but their comedic timing is still put to good use.
It’s no real spoiler to say The Croods leave themselves set up for a sequel. And rightfully so, as Dreamworks have done far more than simply dust off The Flintstones 2.0; The Croods may not yet be a household name, but with their personal brand of buffoonery and heart, you’ll be wanting an introduction.
Freelance writer, award winning film critic and shameless history nerd. The Plot Thickens has become an archive for my published scratchings - for publications including Limelight Magazine, The Guardian Australia, The Vine, SBS Film, The Big Issue, Mornings on 702 ABC Sydney as well as the Critics' Forum on Richard Glover's Drive. I also produce and host The Spoiler Guys podcast with Marc Fennell and Giles Hardie.
So, welcome to my brand of cinephilia: everything from Antonioni to Zoolander.