Tuesday, March 26, 2013

REVIEW: The Croods (2013)

Animated CGI kids films are all the rage, and why shouldn’t they be? They’re profitable as hell, and these days they’ve gotten some serious street cred after films like Ratatouille, Up and last year’s luminous Wreck It Ralph have made the genre into a veritable powerhouse. No longer just for kids and silly slapstick, these days the genre boasts stories that are friendly for kids as well as compelling for adults, finding a perfect balance between good natured humor and good storytelling that anyone can enjoy. It’s a perfect commercial formula and it produces great films, like The Croods.

Director: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds

This movie, telling the story of a family of cavemen who go on a journey to ‘the new world’ as the tectonic plates shift and throw their current world into oblivion, is drop dead hilarious. Where Wreck It Ralph and others like ParaNorman focused more on the blend of comedy with adventure and drama, The Croods is all about the comedy. The drama comes in later, and they are on an adventure, but the jokes are so prominent and so good. Every minute, the theater was busting out in laughter. The comedic timing is great and the jokes are almost all killer. Right in the opening scene you get the whole family running around trying to catch food, and Nicolas Cage (we’ll get to him in a moment) yells out “LET OUT THE BABY!” And then, well, the baby comes out roaring and biting and all.

Everything in this movie is high-speed, energetic and colorful, which adds to the excitement. It’s a very vibrant film, but while busy, it never comes off as cluttered and everything has its rightful place in each scene. Very well put together. There are also all sorts of clever little bits where the film claims that the Croods are the reason we have things we take for granted – pictures, rugs, even hugs…apparently the Croods invented all of these things on their journey in this very movie. These are all just minor bits that come and go quickly, and they’re very well integrated into the rest of the film. And they’re very funny, which is always a plus…

The acting is pretty damn good, featuring Emma Stone as lead girl Eep, who is a rebellious and single-minded woman who can do things on her own…well, Emma Stone is pretty much typecast in this role now, and The Croods nails it, right down to the ‘tough girl but still needs a boyfriend’ trope. And said boyfriend role is filled by Ryan Reynolds as Guy, in probably the first thing I’ve ever liked him in. Guy is a timid but intelligent young man who unwittingly steals Grug (Nicolas Cage…again, we’ll get to him)’s family away from him, and incites the whole movie when the family takes him hostage on their road trip to find a new home, thinking him useful.

Okay, well it’s time to address the elephant in the room here…yes, Nicolas Cage is in this movie, and he is hilarious. He plays Grug, the father of the cavemen who feels threatened by the new world full of ideas and progression, instead preferring to keep hiding in his cave. I haven’t seen Cage having so much fun with a film in years. While most of his recent roles have tended to be more somber in nature even when the movies themselves got silly, The Croods sees a return to his silliest, most over the top performances. While I can’t say the movie would have been improved by adding in some Vampire’s Kiss-esque insanity…

Uh, I think you mean "I'M A CAVEMAN! I'M A CAVEMAN!" But I digress. It IS suitably insane, and the cartoony nature of it all just makes sense, don’t you think? I mean, Nicolas Cage is already a cartoon character in every aspect aside from the fact that he’s three dimensional and resides in our world. Thank God this movie fixes that problem.

There’s a great scene near the climax where Grug, after being cast out as his family prefers staying with Guy over him, spends the night thinking of ideas. When they encounter him the next day…well, it’s pretty loony and involves him skipping around with an ugly octopus-shaped rug on his head, sunglasses on his face that he can’t see out of, and lots of slapstick. I should be annoyed at how much slapstick there is in this, but it’s all really well done and is actually funny, which is something a lot of movies seem to miss. “Slapstick” isn’t an excuse for laziness.

Of course there is the expected dramatic turn toward the end, too, and I won’t spoil it. But for all its humorous moments, the film does know how to turn down the dial a bit and work the heartstrings, producing some very fine, dramatic moments even if they do get kind of predictable. Just for once I’d love to see a film like this go the extra mile and have something really dark happen – instead of the main character looking like he’s dead and then ending up living happily ever after, why doesn’t one of these films actually have him die and stay that way? But it’s wishful thinking.

I also think it’s interesting that, really, the film belongs to Grug the most. It appears at the start that Eep will be the main character, as she gets the most development at first and is the one who sets the chain of events in motion, but in the end she sort of takes a backseat, becoming a more generic female character for this type of movie. Which is a bit disappointing, but then, on the other hand, Grug is a great character and a lot of fun to watch him develop. I’m not a father, but I like the way the movie portrays fatherhood – at first he seems grumpy and even mean at times, but he really does have his family’s best interests at heart and he does have the capacity to change. It’s a genuinely good character arc, and one of the better parts of the film.

So that’s The Croods, and without spoiling too much, I think it’s really good. It’s a bucket full of fun and has some good drama as well, with lively performances and great mise en scene throughout. It’s just a solid, enjoyable animated flick and anyone who has a heart will probably find something to enjoy in it. So what are you waiting for? Go watch it. Go watch it now.

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