Family comedy the (very) old-fashioned way in ‘The Croods’
Updated: March 21, 2013 3:54PM
The world’s first family road trip yields entertaining, though superficial, results in this prehistoric, animated comedy-adventure.
Following in the paw prints of the “Ice Age” franchise, only with proto-people instead of very old-school animals in the leading roles, “The Croods” transplants family sitcom riffs to the Stone Age, “Flintstones”-style. But where “The Flintstones” basically repackaged the wisecrack comedy of Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners,” this action-oriented effort places less emphasis on verbal humor (and character development) than slapstick. With a steady stream of inventive sight gags as a bonus.
The central character in “The Croods” is dedicated family man Grug (Nicolas Cage), the powerful, yet perpetually terrified patriarch of the clan. Grug’s motto is “Fear keeps us alive; never not be afraid” and he’s kept his family somewhat safe by forcing them to spend most of their lives in a dark cave, emerging only to scrounge food.
His wife (Catherine Keener), his cranky old mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman), his pre-teen son (Clark Duke) and, presumably, the feral cave-baby Sandy (Oscar-winning sound editor Randy Thom) all think that’s a pretty good motto. Especially since Grug reinforces it nightly with bedtime stories about foolish family members who failed to listen to their sensible dads — all ending with “and then they died.”
The only one who isn’t happy with Grug’s outlook is his headstrong teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone), who has the dangerous idea that there should be more to life than not dying. And she gets the chance to prove it when she meets a wandering Cro-Magnon guy named, conveniently, Guy (Ryan Reynolds). As a representative of the next step up the evolutionary ladder, Guy has lots of impressive stuff to share including fire, something he calls “ideas” and some staggering news. The world as they know it is about to end in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, so the Croods would be well advised to follow him to higher ground and his dream of a better place called “Tomorrow.”
Grug doesn’t like that idea, of course (No. 2 on his list of rules is “Everything new is bad”), so he refuses, until he’s left no choice when an earthquake destroys their cave and reveals an exotic, paradisiacal valley just a few yards beyond the site of their old home.
Everything that follows is fast-paced action-adventure slapstick as Croods follow Guy through the spectacularly gorgeous, though still extremely dangerous, jungle on their way to a distant mountaintop. One of the chief pleasures of “The Croods” is its dazzling variety of fictional flaura and fauna, including such creatures as Belt, Guy’s tiny, long-armed primate companion (who also clings to his waist and holds up his pants), flocks of ferocious, flesh-stripping Piranhakeets, a tribe of fisticuff-prone Punch Monkeys and the Macawnivore, a tiger with a huge body, an oversized head and the color-scheme of a Macaw parrot.
The script also leaves room for occasional emotional moments, as Grug struggles with self-worth, when it seems his family no longer needs him, as well as alarm at the romantic bond that develops between Eep and Guy — all of this leading to a whopping dramatic climax that calls for the ultimate fatherly sacrifice. The real point of the whole journey, though, is the example Grug sets for young viewers when he ultimately revises his rules for living: Never be afraid and always welcome the new.
That’s all very inspirational, of course, but it would have been nice if he had included some sort of proviso about staying far away from carnivorous parakeets.