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The Croods (“My Thoughts On Animated Films”)

15 Apr


Synopsis: “After their cave is destroyed, a caveman family must trek through an unfamiliar fantastical world with the help of an inventive boy.” (Rated PG; 1 hour, 38 minutes)

Pixar may be the best animation studio in town, but Dreamworks has certainly done a decent job holding its own. Kung Fu Panda starred Jack Black being funny, How To Train Your Dragon was actually exciting entertainment, and now The Croods is a an enjoyably fun and cute family film.  But will everyone like it? That depends, do you enjoy animated movies? I sure do…

I’ve previously written about how horror movies are only of interest to certain clusters of people (Adi being a prime example); and certainly many people will tell you they wouldn’t watch one with a ten foot pole. Another genre that too many of my friends are biased against seem to be animated films. I’m not even referring to Nickelodeon childish films like The Rugrats Movie, but rather big budget cartoons that try to toe the line between kids enjoying themselves while parents get to have their own laughs. Sometimes they even have rather adult themes, like The Incredibles which dealt with a midlife crisis and a suspected marital affair, or WALL-E which dealt with a destroyed world and a was a movie with a major ecological message. They were still highly entertaining movies for children but not necessarily FOR kids. Another example would be this past year’s Wreck-It-Ralph, which could certainly entertain any child, but just about every scene was made with a nod and a wink towards 80’s and 90’s video game nostalgia, exclusively geared toward people who are old enough to appreciate Q*bert references. (See image below)


But not every animated feature is as clearly defined for adults as the aforementioned examples, or exclusively for children as with Rugrats. What about the ones in-between like Despicable Me and Over The Hedge, as well as today’s movie in question, The Croods? To say that I enjoyed those movies does not give a true answer, but I will address friends who love movies and have a spectrum of attitudes when it comes to animated films. I will therefore attempt to break down what categories adult moviegoers fit into when it comes to this genre:

1. People who refuse to see them, with almost no exceptions. They are actually biased against a movie BECAUSE it’s a cartoon, regardless of how adult the content claims to be. The funny thing about these people is that the rare times they’re dragged to see an excellent Pixar film they usually rave about how it was great, but their overall negative attitude toward animated features as being “for kids” is unchanged. Whatever they just saw and loved is the exception to the rule in their minds that these movies aren’t for them. They may be forced to see WALL-E and love it, but will not see nor enjoy Shrek (My father is a prime example of this, but thankfully my mother can sometimes drag him to one.)

2. People who overall think these movies are “for kids” but will consider well reviewed movies to be the exceptions IF they are catered strongly for adults. Thus they will be happy to see The Incredibles and Wreck-It-Ralph, but not Despicable Me. (My friends Ephraim, Mike and Jared are all examples of this.)

3. People who treat animated movies no differently than any other genre. They are just as likely to want to see these movies as a drama or a comedy. If that one in particular looks good, they want to see it, if it doesn’t, they don’t. Thus if Megamind and Madagascar look like fun movies, they’ll be happy to see them. If they look bad, they simply won’t; but the decision is not impacted by the fact that it’s animated. (Adi and Seth each fit this category.)

4. People who love cartoons, and actually have a positive bias in their favor. They get excited about a new animated feature the same way I will get excited about a new Jason Statham movie: it’s fun to watch even if it’s bad, but all the better if it turns out to be good. They are as likely to see Finding Nemo as the awful Ice Age: Continental Drift. (My brother Zachary used to fit this mold, although having a wife and baby seems to have made him inexplicably pickier with his time.)

BONUS: Animated movies that fit other genres, such as straight forward action/adventure films, or Anime/Manga. These will get their own fans and their own detractors as they seem to not quite fit the mold of light, fluffy, funny cartoons. They may be exclusively catered for adults and older teens (Beowulf, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Spirited Away), or they may be a totally different genre that’s still intended for kids and adults (Rise Of The Guardians, The Owls of Ga’Hoole). When it comes to these types of cartoons, all bets are off as to whether someone who loved Pixar movies can also love a great piece of Anime, it’s much more person-specific.

I believe this can work as a general template for most audiences, and it’s important anytime you read a review about an animated movie to recognize that it depends on where the critic falls within that template, as well as where you know you fit as the audience. Personally, I’m as much of a movie-lover with cartoons as anything else. I suppose that puts me at #3, although since I love seeing every (mainstream) genre quite indiscriminately, I will be enjoying just as wide of a variety with these cartoons.

So how was The Croods? Very light, comical, enjoyable, and had high energy. It was a fun movie certainly catered toward kids but with a ton for adults to enjoy. The humor was cute, the characters were amusing, the voice-over actors were perfect, the animation was superb, the colors were exquisite, the music was pleasant, and the story was sweet, even if predictable. Too condensed of an explanation? I’ll expand a bit…

Nicolas Cage has one of those voices that people love to do impersonate, because he’s so distinctive and ridiculously over-the-top. (Other easy targets include Christopher Walken and Al Pacino.) Having him play the father and leader of the caveman clan was perfect, because he took the role as seriously as ever, and the silliness you feel when you see him on screen nowadays translates well into a children’s animated comedy. Almost as easily identifiable was Emma Stone as his daughter who wanted to rebel and see what more was out there in life (just like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, but with the muscles and amusing brutal strength of a cave-woman. As someone who prides himself on recognizing actors extremely well, I always challenge myself during animated movies to figure out who each voice belongs to. In The Croods I recognized the previously mentioned two, as well as Ryan Reynolds and Catherine Keener in their roles, but will admit I thought Cloris Leachman was actually Betty White!

It really was a visually stunning movie, although there was one scene that was taken straight out of Avatar. Just as their family arrived in some sort of forest, they were walking  along tree barks while floating dandelions surrounded their heads. It seemed to me like a pretty deliberate nod towards the James Cameron blockbuster. The entire movie was creative enough to come up with an endless amalgamation of creatures: a land whale with legs, a dog reptile, a turtle bird, it was very entertaining meeting each piece of their wacky prehistoric universe.

There was one scene toward the end that was surprisingly and effectively poignant. I will just say that it involved cave painting, and leave it at that. But Adi and I were both quite moved by the scene, which wasn’t something I expected from the otherwise manic, fun energy that the movie exuded.

Two men were responsible for writing and directing the film, and their pedigrees somewhat surprised me. Chris Sanders had directed only two previous movies, and both were good in their own ways. The first was Lilo & Stitch back in 2002. That movie had such a crazy energy to it that I believe carried over here quite well. I was also amused to note that he was the famous voice of Stitch, the little nutty alien from the movie. And sure enough he was the voice of a funny little creature in The Croods which every now and then had this hilarious “Dum dum dummmm” line that was meant to imply something ominous but instead came across as both funny and adorable. What was his one other movie in-between these two? How To Train Your Dragon, a movie I had already mentioned earlier as being really exciting and well made. The other writer/director has a less impressive past in my opinion. Kirk De Micco directed one previous film, and it was Space Chimps, a rare animated movie that was a big flop at the box office, and much worse than most. Thankfully, his collaboration with Chris Sanders seemed to pay off here. Oh, not to be outdone, I did notice that John Cleese of Monty Python fame contributed for the story, so I would like to believe that everything funny that happened in the movie was helped by one of the funniest people in the world having a hand in the movie!

Alan Silvestri composed a fun soundtrack, and it would be wise to note that most of his recent films have been exciting movies (Captain America, The A Team, G.I. Joe), and you could feel his talent in that genre during the many action sequences in this film. What should you recognize that he has written? Oh, just a couple of little movies called The Avengers and Forrest Gump, two of the biggest box office hits of all time.

Clearly I enjoyed the movie, but it was by no means brilliant or thought-provoking; it was just a good time watching an enjoyable animated feature. So now you have to go back to that template I drew up and decide if it would be a good fit for YOU.

The movie was better than Space Chimps, the weak first (animated) film by Kirk De Micco. It is however not as impressive as How To Train Your Dragon, the previous (animated) feature by Chris Sanders.

Quality Rating: B+

Boaz Rating: B+ (Although I did clearly enjoy it, there was still a divide between this and many of the previously mentioned animated features which are actually great, or certainly even more fun)