Recently, I’ve been of the mind that when it comes to quality blockbuster family animations, we’ve hit a bit of a slump. I know it happens sometimes but it was making me depressed. No longer were the brightly coloured posters of new kids’ films filling me with wonder and delight – more an overwhelming sense of ‘meh’ as I gazed at the overenthusiastic smiles of whatever uninspired character happened to star in this particular one. I’ve covered how I feel about Disney/Pixar’s part in this here.
The year hasn’t been a total letdown though. Paranorman rocked and it feels like these guys (Laika) have been picking up the slack where the other three majors (Disney, Dreamworks & Blue Sky Studios) had dropped the ball not just with inspired animation but storytelling too.
The last few flicks that came out of Dreamworks after Kung-Fu Panda 2 gave me cause to think that they’ve lost the magic as well. With nothing to offer but a handful of sequels and the only original title in the last two years being the frightfully disappointing Rise of the Guardians (despite its decent voice cast and guiding hand of Guillermo Del Toro), things were not looking good.
And then this; The Croods.
As I sat back and watched the story unfold, I breathed a sigh of relief as my cynicism subsided. All is not lost. They’ve managed to deliver a surprisingly heartfelt tale following the last caveman family on the planet that must learn to evolve or face extinction.
The writing on this one has been brought to us by co-directors Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch) and Kirk De Micco (Space Chimps) with a credit to John Cleese for developing the story. Space Chimps never really worked for me but Lilo & Stitch is one of my favourite Disney films ever and Cleese? Well, it’s John freakin’ Cleese!
The story follows the exploits of the last Cro-Magnon family who up until this point have succeeded in not dying by hiding in a cave and experiencing as little as possible. The metaphor is a little ham-fisted on that front but the real magic of this one lies in the relationship between father and daughter.
Eep (Emma Stone) is the rebellious teenage daughter that every father fears having. She’s headstrong and knows what she wants which scares the hell out of Grug (Nicolas Cage) because what she wants is exactly what’s bad for her in his eyes. And then she meets a boy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a Homo Erectus with ideas and other scary talents which only compound Grug’s fatherly over-protectiveness.With possibly the smallest cast list ever, the chemistry between the characters is pure alchemy but it’s Cage’s performance in this which helped remind me why he’s great despite the long list of terrible film roles that he’s chosen over the years. He brings an energy and warmth to this caveman with limited mental capacity that I haven’t seen from him in quite a while.
The animation is strong with a perfect balance of spectacle, slapstick and character development that many of its peers are lacking these days. See it with your family before they make a sequel.