Never underestimate the power of low expectations. But to give it a break, “The Croods” was a pleasant surprise, mis-sold by a fairly uninspiring trailer. It tells the story of a family of cavemen (would they call themselves that?) who, by a rather apocalyptically fast interpretation of plate tectonics, are left homeless in a strange new land.
After surviving numerous causes of death that claimed most of their neighbours, they survived by clinging onto what they knew and taking a strong line against new things and curiosity. A rather blunt and paranoid way of living that we get repeatedly clubbed over the head with, particularly by overprotective father Ug.
The headstrong, curious teen girl Eep (in a surprisingly modern – i.e. slutty – outfit) clashes repeatedly against this narrow-minded view, and meets cute (for a CGI toon) resourceful Guy. Guy brings fire, inventions and doomy reports of an incoming end of days. Before we have much time to process this, the Croods’ world is shaken up, and the film settles down to a good old-fashioned quest to… well just get to a mountain, because… Guy had some cryptic clues about it? I don’t know. But it was better than the ever-present horizon of death moving in.
So everyone learns something about themselves and each other, and personal issues are resolved in a variety of contrived plot devices. Basically this is Ice Age 2, but with people and slightly less contrived plot devices (seriously WTF was that giant see-saw sculpture scene in Ice Age 2? Ridiculous!). But somehow the emotional payoffs work well, the family’s various psychoses are resolved, and there are plenty of big explosions.
The CGI was really superb this time, with the only strange thing being the weird faces. Why make Eep’s body so human, but her head like a troll doll? The environments had more abrupt changes and bright colours than a Sonic the Hedgehog-inspired LSD trip, but it was a pleasure to watch.
While some of the emotional scenes laid it on a bit thick, and the characters’ mental processes were made a bit TOO one-dimensional for the benefit of the slower children watching, there was a fun, chaotic energy to the family and a good humour to the tone. This was best displayed by an chase scene early in the film.
I did go a bit crazy trying to work out the voice actors, but they did a good job. It’s difficult to really tell if they are doing a good job, so much hinges on the visuals. Why couldn’t I tell that Ug was Nic Cage though? At least I worked out omnipresent Emma Stone was one of them.
Bottom line is that it’s one of the more enjoyable family-oriented films I’ve seen in a long while, perhaps since “How to train your dragon”, incidentally made by the same people!