By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette — Well, now we know. The mother-in-law joke, that corny vestige of tired comedians everywhere, was first told in prehistoric times. At least that’s the impression we get from “The Croods,” the new animated feature from DreamWorks.
Mothers-in-law don’t get a fair shake in the movie, but fortunately the cartoon fable doesn’t lose its focus because of this. “The Croods” has enough charms to soothe a savage mastodon.
Yes, the in-law jokes get annoying, but the film overcomes the negativity they engender. Besides, Cloris Leachman provides the voice for the crabby cavewoman. If you’re going to have a curmudgeonly female codger, a grandmother who wears being nasty like a badge of honor, than I guess Leachman’s the gal for you. Her snarling attitude is actually rather funny at times.
The Croods are a Stone Age family that lives in mortal fear of everything. The world beyond their cave is fraught with dangers, real and imagined. Strange creatures, horrific sounds, and odd smells all contribute to their sense of impending doom. The Croods are in a battle to survive, although Granny has certainly defied the odds. Perhaps even the beasts are afraid of her. The family also includes Grug the father (voiced by Nicolas Cage), Ugga the mother (Catherine Keener) and Eep the daughter (Emma Stone). There’s also a young son, Thunk, and the wild child, Sandy.
Where television’s more famous Stone Age Flintstones lived a rather luxurious existence, the Croods are polar opposites. This doesn’t sit well with daughter Eep, who believes there has to be a better part of the world. Those lights in the sky mean something. The thrust of “The Croods” is really rather simple. Grug, who lives by the credo “fear is good, change is bad,” wants to protect his family. He insists that to travel too far means certain doom. There are even drawings showing the tragic fate of neighbors who strayed too far from their caves. As if that weren’t harsh warning enough, the continents are shifting and an earthquake will soon deliver a homeless existence. Through all of this, Grug, like fathers everywhere, at any time, in any era, has to contend with the rebellious spirit of his teenage daughter.
Eep sees hope around the nearest rock outcropping and salvation just over the ridge. Refusing to stay in the cave at night, she’d rather sleep under the stars. Her daydreams are a world of magical possibilities. Her night dreams are filled with the promise of a better future.
Into Eep’s life arrives a guy named Guy. He’s voiced by Ryan Reynolds, who was People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2010. Its first Canadian, if that matters to you. Eep’s encounter with Guy takes the Crood family into new territory. It should be noted, that except for Granny, who’s a bit raggedy-looking, the Croods are the most attractive cave family you’ve ever seen. Eep is quite beautiful, and Guy has to be the hunkiest human on earth. But that’s not even his biggest selling point. Guy’s a grand thinker, a planner, and he carries around with him the ability to make fire. Brontosaurus burgers, anyone?
Eventually, if Grug can get used to the idea of the best-looking man on earth having the hots for his daughter, Guy is willing to show the Crood family amazing things that will utterly dazzle them. Compared to their dusty, barren, cave-scattered homestead, with its foul and angry beasts of prey, the colorful world of landscapes, waterfalls, and harmless animals the Croods will encounter is Paradise on earth.
It’s a given that DreamWorks was not going to make an animated feature and keep its main characters mired amidst murky landscapes and murkier water. The brave new world is a rainbow of eye-popping beauty. But do they belong in this world, which still has its own kind of ominous dangers?
Stereotypes about teenage crushes and mothers-in-law aside, “The Croods” is an affectionate look at the love to be found in the safety of family, even an extended one. After all, the Croods risk being picked off one-by-one by the nearest dinosaur. Grug learns that you have to be willing to take on fresh adventures.
Originally, Monty Python’s comic master John Cleese wrote a treatment for a movie to be called “Crood Awakening.” He gets a story credit on “The Croods,” but he lost the chance to make his picture, possibly due to Hollywood’s viper pit way of doing business. Screenwriting credit for the thin tale is given to Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, both of whom also directed.
It’s interesting to think about what Cleese’s film might have looked like, but “The Croods” is still enjoyable fun.Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.