Movie Reviews
4:37 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

'The Croods': 3-D Cartoon Cavemen For The Whole Family

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 5:17 pm

The makers of the animated Vikings comedy How to Train Your Dragon have come up with an animated caveman comedy that might as well be titled How to Train Your Father. Instead, they've called it The Croods, and centered it on a cavegirl named Eep (Emma Stone) who has a dad she sees — entirely accurately, let's note — as a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal.

Voiced by Nicolas Cage, dad is loving but dim, and as you'll guess from his bedtime stories — all of which involve characters who die when they encounter anything new — cautious to a fault.

Eep's brother Thunk (The Office's Clark Duke), mom (an underused Catherine Keener), and granny (tart-tongued Cloris Leachman) have all absorbed dad's "never not be afraid" mantra, but Eep is more adventurous. One night, she sees the light — literally, a cinder from a torch — and follows it to find a dashing, high-browed, comparatively inventive guy named Guy with the voice of Ryan Reynolds, a pet sloth and a flair for the dramatic:

"The world is ending," he announces, as his sloth rasps a fanfare for emphasis. "Come with me."

"I can't," she replies, and returns to her cave.

Neander-girl meets Sapien-boy, and never the twain would meet again, except that the very next day, Guy's prediction starts to come true. A landslide destroys the cave while the family is out, and beyond the rubble they find a new world of bizarre creatures. Think The Flintstones on James Cameron's Pandora, with the Croods nearly becoming crudites for critters ranging from saber-toothed housecats to a flock of tiny razor-toothed birds that look like piranha-keets.

For a while, I thought there might be a political parable intended here — Cage's conservative dad competing with his daughter's progressive boyfriend for the right to chart a path forward for the family of man — but it's pretty quickly clear that the filmmakers don't actually have much on their minds besides jokes.

Most of these jokes are based on stereotypes nearly as ancient as the cave drawings the characters occasionally reference — not just overprotective dads and girls who love shoes, but savage toddlers, annoying in-laws and subservient moms.

If the digital 3-D gorgeousness owes a lot to Cameron's world-creating work in Avatar, the plot of The Croods is structurally crude — just a Paleolithic road trip with detours for slapstick and sentiment. It's less about breaking new ground, or even breaking in new characters, than about creating an Ice Age-style franchise.

Still, as family viewing, it's pleasant enough: primitive, yes, but in a digitally sophisticated way that's boisterous, funny and will no doubt sell a lot of toys.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Spring break is upon us. That means families need entertaining and Hollywood is ready. The makers of the animated comedy "How To Train Your Dragon," have a new offering in theaters today. It's called "The Croods." Instead of Vikings, this time it's cavemen on a kind of prehistoric road trip. Bob Mondello has our review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Eep is a cavegirl with a dad she sees - entirely accurately, let's note - as a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal, loving, but dim. And as you'll guess from his bedtime stories...

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "THE CROODS")

NICOLAS CAGE: (As Grug) Tonight, we'll hear the story of crispy bear.

MONDELLO: Cautious to a fault.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "THE CROODS")

CAGE: (As Grug) She was filled with curiosity. Yes. And one day she saw something new and died.

EMMA STONE: (As Eep) Just like that?

CAGE: (As Grug) Yes.

STONE: (As Eep) Oh, same ending as every day.

CLARK DUKE: (As Thunk) I get it dad, I will never do anything new or different.

MONDELLO: That's Thunk, Eep's low-browed little brother who has absorbed their dad's never not be afraid mantra, as have the rest of the family. Eep, though, is more adventurous, as voiced by Emma Stone. And one night, she sees the light, literally, a cinder from a torch, and follows it to find a handsome, high-browed guy with the voice of Ryan Reynolds, a pet sloth and a flair for the dramatic.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "THE CROODS")

RYAN REYNOLDS: (As Guy) The world is ending.

STONE: (As Eep) What?

REYNOLDS: (As Guy) I'm calling it the end.

MONDELLO: That's the sloth.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "THE CROODS")

REYNOLDS: (As Guy) We got to get to high ground. Come with me.

STONE: (As Eep) I can't.

MONDELLO: Neander-girl meets Sapien-boy, and never the twain would meet again, except that the very next day, Guy's prediction starts to come true.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "THE CROODS")

CAGE: (As Grug) Eep, come down...

MONDELLO: Which takes things out of their hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "THE CROODS")

CAGE: (As Grug) Head for the cave, go.

MONDELLO: A landslide destroys the cave before they get there and beyond the rubble they find a new world of bizarre creatures.

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "THE CROODS")

STONE: (as Eep) You really need to see this.

MONDELLO: Think The Flintstones on Pandora, with the Croods almost becoming crudites for critters ranging from saber-toothed tigers to a flock of tiny razor-toothed birds that look a lot like piranha-keets. For a while, I thought there might be a political parable intended, Nicolas Cage's conservative dad competing with his daughter's progressive boyfriend for the right to chart a path forward.

But it's pretty quickly clear the filmmakers don't actually have much on their minds besides jokes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "THE CROODS")

REYNOLDS: (As Guy) I call them shoes.

STONE: (As Eep) I love them. Where are my feet.

MONDELLO: As you can hear, the archetypes are nearly as ancient as the cave drawings the characters occasionally reference, not just girls who love shoes and overprotective dads, but annoying in-laws and family dynamics in general.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM "THE CROODS")

DUKE: (As Thunk) That's not food. He's a pet. My pet.

CLORIS LEACHMAN: (As Gran) What's a pet?

DUKE: (As Thunk) An animal you don't eat.

LEACHMAN: (As Gran) We call those children.

MONDELLO: If the digital 3-D gorgeousness owes a lot to Cameron's world-creating work in Avatar, the plot of "The Croods" is structurally crude, just a Paleolithic road trip with detours for slapstick and sentiment. It's less about breaking new ground, or even breaking in new characters, than about creating an "Ice Age"-style franchise. Still, as family viewing, it's pleasant enough, primitive, yes, but in a digitally sophisticated way that's boisterous, funny and will no doubt sell a lot of toys.

I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.