DreamWorks Animation has always strived to tell stories that can appeal to all ages. Its latest animated comedy, “The Croods,” will surely be enjoyed by anybody who is under 10. Unlike “Shrek” and “Kung-Fu Panda” though, it lacks the wit and innovation for older audiences. Compared to most Saturday morning cartoons, the film won’t passionately annoy parents who get dragged to the theater. But in an era where more and more adults are attending animated features without accompanying children, “The Croods” feels like a step backwards for DreamWorks.
Emma Stone provides the voice of Eep Crood, a teenage cave girl who wants to get out and see the world’s wonders. But her father, voiced by Nicolas Cage, insists that the region beyond their cave can only bring death. Eep is kept cooped up with her family, which includes Catherine Keener as the nurturing mother, Clark Duke as the bumbling son, and Cloris Leachman as the lively grandmother. The family also includes a ferocious baby who is voiced by Randy Thom, the Oscar-winning sound mixer. As the continents start to drift, the Croods are forced to venture into the uncharted earth. They come across a guy named Guy, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, and his cute pet sloth who will undoubtedly inspire a profitable line of plush toys. Guy is roped into helping the Croods find a new cave while he sets out to discover a land known as Tomorrow.
From “The Flintstones” to “Ice Age,” this prehistoric setup is more primitive than a Neanderthal. While the territory may be familiar, that doesn’t mean “The Croods” can’t set itself apart with original characters and clever jokes. That’s not at all the case. Although the Croods are perfectly likable and the actors all do ample voice-over work, they’re mostly just generic archetypes. Honestly, how many movies have we seen with overprotective fathers, rebellious daughters, understanding mothers, wimpy sons, and energetic grandmas? Unless you’re a 5-year-old who has never seen a movie before, it’s pretty easy to figure out everything that is going to happen to these people.
The film’s slapstick action will probably have youngsters giggling. But “The Croods” lacks the sophisticated written humor that made “The Simpsons” or “The Incredibles” unforgettable animated families. Before DreamWorks cut ties with Aardman Animations, this film was going to be co-written by John Cleese. There are some gags here that have the essence of Cleese’s comedic genius, such as when an animal bites the dust and becomes dinner. On the whole, however, the film could have used more of the dark, zany humor of a “Monty Python” sketch.
So is “The Croods” just a huge waste of time? To be fair, there are some redeeming qualities. This being a DreamWorks film, the animation is naturally fantastic. The bright, vivacious colors pop out at the audience, creating an environment reminiscent of Pandora. Even if some of the chase sequences overstay their welcome, the action is still fast-paced, brilliantly shot, and well rendered. Much of this can be attributed to cinematographer Roger Deakins, who acted as a creative consultant on the film.
“The Croods” was written and directed by Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco. Sanders has previously made some very effective films about family dynamics such as “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Lilo & Stitch.” Even though the Croods themselves aren’t especially fascinating characters, the script at least allows several quiet, genuine moments for character development. Are those sincere scenes enough to save the film? No, not when it’s significantly lacking in the humor and story departments. But even if “The Crudes” is a C+ movie overall, it deserves an A for effort.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.