The release date for “The Croods 2” is approximately a month away, so let’s talk about the first one. Clearly it made a splash, or it would not have been invited back again.
Pixar had long dominated warm-fuzzy computer-animated kids films, whereas DreamWorks made “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and the many “Madagascar” movies, which had a decidedly more catering-to-adults feel to them, full of double entendres and a slightly more hard-bitten Weltanschauung.
However, DreamWorks’ 2013 update on, basically, “The Flintstones,” “The Croods” tried to capture a piece of the Pixar market by being very warm and fuzzy. Especially fuzzy, since it’s about cavemen, or rather, one big patriarch caveman named Grug (voiced hilariously by Nicolas Cage), and his family.
It’s an environmentally apocalyptic tale; the world is in the midst of tectonic plate shifts, and since the family appear Neanderthal, it must have be the Pleistocene Epoch shifting into the Holocene Epoch. I googled that. So basically, “The Croods” is a Neanderthal-centric version of the second “Ice Age” movie, except with more evolved CG.
This story concerning a major earth-shift is further accentuated by the fact that the Croods’ tiger-skin-clad teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) is dating a little Cro-Magnon dude (Ryan Reynolds).
Now, it would appear (also from Google) that that particular relationship would have needed to bridge a gap of around 10,000 years. But no matter! The point is—this movie is about change!
Safety-obsessed paterfamilias Grug is married to zebra-skin-clad Ugga (Catherine Keener). Aforementioned daughter Eep has a chubby brother named Thunk (Clark Duke)—nice kid, not terribly bright. And then there’s Grug’s meddling mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman) who Grug—like many men whose mothers-in-law live with them—hopes will die soon. Bringing up the rear is Sandy, a formidably choleric, alternately googoo-gaga-ing/snarling feral child, whose cute fuzzy pigtails use big blue millipedes for scrunchies.
Grug leads his Crood clan in daily food forages, which includes a scene where the family functions like a football/rugby team, quarterbacking and running-backing a giant filched egg from a Dr. Seuss-like ostrich.
What’s clever is that the score evokes football by using Fleetwood Mac’s marching-band hit song “Tusk” (one of those songs that get perennially played at college football games), and cleverer still, is the massive beastie that they all hop aboard to escape the irate ostrich in hot pursuit—it has giant tusks. “Tusk,” tusks, football. See?
The other thing Grug does is terrify his family into staying put in their furniture-less cave home, accompanying his storytelling with cave paintings about all the deadly flora and fauna lurking outside. Grug’s motto is “Never not be afraid!”
Daughter Eep, however, is a rambunctious teen with a Stone-Age-sized rebellious streak. She’s sick and tired of daddy’s safey-safe, namby-pamby approach to life, and so one night, she pulls the prehistoric version of climbing out the bedroom window and jumping in some bad boy’s rumbling Camaro.
Following the shadows of flickering fire on canyon walls (she’s never seen fire before), she discovers a nomadic Cro-Magnon-esque guy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds). He’s got cool hipster hair and stripe-y ornamental body paint, and kinda, like, low-slung 1970s-style hiphugger bell-bottom jeans. Guy is higher on the evolutionary ladder. Guy knows fire. Guy knows shoes. Guy’s also got a pet sloth called “Belt” who’s got various jobs: hold Guy’s pants up (obviously, with that name), but also sidekick, therapist, bartender, minimalist laconic jokester, medic, and muse.
One look at Ryan Reynolds-voiced cool Guy and Eep is over the moon, of course. Think Grug’ll like Guy? Or do you maybe think Grug’ll immediately wish he could lay his hands on that preventative measure against Camaro guys, beloved of modern dads—the shotgun?
Continental plate shifts, geysers, volcano eruptions, earthquakes! The Crood family residence is flattened by a massive rock fall. It’s suddenly the end of the world as they knew it, and Grug definitely doesn’t feel fine.
Off they all scurry into a barren, scorched-earth, lava-flow landscape, with Guy as a guide. As mentioned, Guy knows migration, Guy knows figure-four dead-fall traps, Guy knows fire, and survival on the run as opposed to Grug’s survival by cave, which Grug grudgingly must acknowledge and embrace.
Do they have a plan for their flight? Yes, “Follow the light.” Sounds trite, but it’s quite alright—there are magnificent visuals, tons of action, and a jaw-dropping world-building that pays considerable homage to James Cameron’s “Avatar,” especially in the fauna department.
There is a vast number of imagined prehistoric technicolor creatures: a cross between a sabertooth tiger and a neon-colored parrot fish; a crimson tide of murmurating piranha birds; a barking, panting, crocodile-canine that Thunk adopts and names Douglas; waddling land-whales; and two lemurs sharing the same banded tail. These make up just a few of the slew of fellow travelers on the Croods’ magical mystery tour to the future.
All in All
As they all travel across the incredibly unstable prehistoric landscape, beset by danger, it’s basically patriarchal, ultraconservative (caveman)-tradition-espousing Grug versus teen rebellion dream-Guy’s innovative progressivism. The Crood clan shifts from thinking “father knows best” to seeing Grug as a pitiable fundamentalist. This would appear to strike a blow for the liberal agenda.
But Grug’s game for some change! He turns out to be a revisionist, capable of adaptation—at first hewing to tradition to take care of his family, and then adapting in the midst of great change, and teaching his kids to take risks and be adventurous in order to survive. So that would appear to be two blows for the liberal agenda—the second being the conservative saw the error of his ways!
The interesting (and ironic) thing about this movie message is that in our current apocalyptic COVID climate, adventure is out the window and caution and fear are rampant.
Nic Cage is clearly having a blast playing this updated version of Fred Flintstone, especially the scene where he tries to compete with Guy, coming up with hilarious, harebrained inventions like photography: “Paintings are so passé” (smears Thunk’s face with gray mud and then whacks him in the face with piece of slate) “I call it a snapshot.” Thunk: “Can we do that again? I think I blinked.”
Between COVID-19, the uncertainty about our future in abundance all around us, impending zombie apocalyptic doom, and whatnot, “The Croods” provides an extremely hopeful message of surviving into the future. Little ones won’t get it intellectually, but they’ll get it on a visceral level, while being thoroughly entertained by Douglas the gator-dog. Or is it dog-gator? Croc-dog? You decide.
Directors: Kirk DeMicco, Chris Sanders
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Chris Sanders, Randy Thom
Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Release Date: March 22, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars