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Movie of the Day: The Croods (2013)

21 May

The Croods is a featherweight animated comedy perched somewhere between Ice Age and “The Flintstones.”  It’s not as funny as the former or as endearing the latter.  It is the kind of movie that you enjoy it while you’re watching it, but afterwards it slips away from your mind.  In six months your kids might not even remember it.

The Croods of the title are a prehistoric family.  There are six of them: Dad is Grug (Nicholas Cage); Mom is Ugga (Catherine Keener); Gran is the elder (Cloris Leachman); the kids are a teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone); a son named Thunk (Clark Duke); and a feral toddler named Sandy (Randy Thom) who acts more like the family dog.  They are fairly afraid of the world around them mostly because the entire landscape seems ready to swallow them up.  For this reason, Dad has instituted the family motto: “Everything new is bad!”

It’s true, The Croods don’t know much about the world around them (despite a perfect grasp of modern English) and Dad takes measures to keep them safe, like locking them in a cave at night.  The family may scoff but his technique seems to have worked where others seem to have failed.  No one ever blatantly points it out, but The Croods seem to be the only human beings on Earth.  There are indications of another family, but that information is held out for one of the sentimental moments.

The story has an adventure, but it settles more firmly on boring family issues.  The oldest child, Eeps yearns to break out of Dad’s cautionary measures and explore the world.  One night she does, and comes across a handsome young wanderer named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who has information that the world is about to come apart.  This – we remember from science class – is the breakup of Pangaea, a single continent that broke up millions of years ago and became the continents that we know today.  That sets off an uneasy journey as the family heads . . . someplace safe.  With the whole world coming apart it is hard to tell where they think they are going, but there seem to be some peaks that make up the horizon.

The family story involves Dad’s attempt to lead his family despite the fact that young Guy has much better survival instincts.  He is also angered by the fact that Eep has taken a liking to the new boy and that opens up the old familiar you-gotta-let-her-grow-up plots that have been the bane of the Ice Age sequels.

The journey itself has its moments.  Between dodging fierce creatures and massive land shifts, The Croods discover fire, shoes, sunglasses, umbrellas, belts, the rickshaw, lawn furniture, family portraits, domestic pets, dreadlocks, and a concept called “hugging” (awww!)  They also discover a strange phenomenon that only takes place at night, little pinholes in the night sky that help them understand where the sun goes all night.  That scene is, admittedly, kind of magical.

One could only wish that the rest of the film were as wondrous.  This is a fairly mushy movie.  Like every other animated comedy these days, it is dulled by a bunch of sweet and sentimental family bonding.  The problem is that the characters aren’t interesting enough to make us care.  The screenplay by Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco deals with the domestic issues of the father and his budding daughter, but who cares about that?  This is a movie for kids.  Why not just give them an honest-to-goodness slapstick comedy that will make them laugh non-stop?  Leave the drama for when they grow up.

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