Film review: Stone Age 'The Croods' is as interesting as watching a rock
This film publicity image released by DreamWorks Animation shows, from left, Belt the sloth, voiced by Chris Sanders, Guy, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Eep, voiced by Emma Stone, Ugga, voiced by Catherine Keener, holding Sandy, voiced by Randy Thom, Thunk, voiced by Clark Duke, Gran, voiced by Cloris Leachman, in a scene from "The Croods." (AP Photo/DreamWorks Animation) (DreamWorks Animation / AP / March 18, 2013)
I keep hoping to see an animated Best Picture Oscar winner, and I consider it a grievous oversight that "Wreck-it Ralph" wasn't even nominated for the award for 2012. "The Croods" is the first major animated feature of 2013, and it is proof that animation can be just as boring as all manner of live-action junk.
The story follows a family of cave-dwellers, led by Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage). Grug's main concern is the survival of his family, which he maintains by keeping everyone cooped up in a cave where nothing can harm them.
This doesn't sit well with his daughter Eep (voiced by the aptly-named Emma Stone), who, like so many animated heroines, wants to go on adventures and see the world. She sneaks out one night and meets a guy named Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who vaguely warns her of an upcoming apocalypse.
A symptomatic earthquake soon destroys the Croods' cave, and the family joins up with Guy to venture to a new home on a distant mountain. The whole situation drives Grug crazy because he hates leaving the cave and encountering new things. He also doesn't like the way the family (especially Eep) takes to the forward-thinking Guy. Grug is opposed to the very idea of ideas.
The human cast is extremely small. There's Grug, Eep, and Guy, then there's Grug's traitless wife Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener), sassy mother-in-law Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman), dimwitted son Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke), and an infant daughter who just grunts instead of talking. Everything else is a prehistoric animal. The story could have used a villain, the closest we get are natural predators who want nothing more than a nosh. And even among them some of them turn out to be friendly.
The obligatory message of the film is that you shouldn't go through life hiding in a cave and playing it safe. I can't accuse the film of "tacking on" this message since it hits us over the head with it in almost every scene. There are also some agreeable messages about the importance of family and perseverance, and some muddier stuff about chasing the sun and its tomorrows or some nonsense.
The humor is uninspired. A lot of the jokes involve beating a single character trait into the ground. The film never lets you forget that Thunk is dumb, Gran is crazy, and Grug is overprotective (and also dumb). The worst gags are "Flintstones" knock-offs where the characters come up with modern technology using primitive materials. I cringed especially hard at the bits with conch shell cell phones. And while I can't get too mad at gags with cuddly animals, please know that the film loves to have Guy's pet sloth dramatically yell "DUH-DUH-DUHHHHHHH" in a squeaky voice. This gag has been shoved down our throats in the film's advertising, and sounds exactly the same in the feature film. Kids are practically encouraged to repeat the phrase ad nauseam. You have been warned.
Actually, consider this your warning for "The Croods" as a whole. It's annoying and mostly uninteresting. The most involving thing about the film comes toward the end when a character decides to make a tremendous sacrifice. This is not to say that the film is inherently better in its bleakest moments, only that specific moments late in the film are more tender and powerful than the scenes leading up to them. But mostly the film is just unfunny and unmemorable. It's as if the writers were living in a cave while humor was evolving.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
"The Croods" is rated PG for some scary action. Its running time is 98 minutes.
Contact Robert Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.