Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Croods - Theatrical Review

Release Date: March 22, 2013

"The Croods" is great entertainment for the whole family.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 10:30 pm March 22, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 3D  
Film Rating: PG 

Film Runtime: 1 hr 32 min
Studio: Dreamworks

Loves: Road trip movies
Likes: Most Dreamworks animated movies
Neutral: Prehistoric storytelling
Hates: Visuals over story   
All the characters: Deserve their own sitcom

Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) has had an inordinate curiosity about her that has been kept in check by her overly protective father Grug's (voiced by Nicolas Cage) strict rules, rules that kept her and the rest of the Croods including, her mother Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener), her brother Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke), her baby sister Sandy (voiced by Randy Thom) and her grandmother Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman) all safe from the dangers in the desolate wasteland that surround the tiny cave but at the cost of their freedom. One day however, Eep lets her curiosity get the best of her and sneaks out of the cave only to meet a mysterious stranger named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who warns her of an impending apocalypse. Soon, Eep and the rest of the Croods find themselves on a fantastic journey through new and dangerous lands as they attempt to outrun the cataclysmic event behind them.

Dreamworks latest animated feature "The Croods" is yet another in a long line of animated films from the studio that brought you such classics as "Monsters Vs. Aliens", "Ice Age" and "Kung Fu Panda" that aim simply to please. They don't really care so much about setting the bar for others to reach, they are perfectly happy being just slightly under the bar. Their films are almost always technical achievements with a huge emphasis put upon the actors hired to voice their usually very lovable characters with very little attention put on the story being told. "The Croods" joins this family of films and for better or worse it to seems to be content in providing dazzling visuals and memorable characters with a serviceable prehistoric tale that feels more dated than the dinosaurs.

Let's start with the good points first. This is hands down the most gorgeous film of the year. From the characters whose diverse personalities just scream for their own weekly syndicated show to the extensive and vibrant world they discover on their way to salvation from the end of the world, the film is just a constant joy to look at and will bring a smile to all but the most jaded viewers. Animation is always reaching new heights and while Dreamworks storytelling seems to be stuck in the stone age, at least their technical prowess is consistently moving forward and "The Croods" sets a new benchmark for visual fidelity. Not only is the world filled with imaginative creations (love those turtlebirds!), but it all feels so alive and active. Whenever the Croods interact with their strange and mysterious surroundings the results are often times either hilarious and beautiful or even both.

Much of the films success lies in its characters and the actors who voice them. There are two schools of thought on how to do characters in animation in relation to the real life actors who voice them. Either the actors should disappear in the role and the audience doesn't even realize who it is voicing the character or the actor's mannerisms, personality and likeness are perfectly replicated so that the two are nearly indistinguishable. Depending on how much you follow or agree with these trains of though will determine how much you like the characters. The argument is a valid one though, when an animator is free to create a character and infuse their own set of values and personality into their creation it can often result in a very unique character that doesn't exist in the real world, but if the animator's job is simply to mimic the way the voice actor moves and speaks they are limited with what they can do and thus the final result is a perfect replica of an actor you either love or hate instead of a character that is unique to the film.

It is an impossible argument that just comes down to personal taste in the end and in the case of "The Croods" and every other Dreamworks animated feature, it makes no excuses for how it pimps out the vocal talent of their films and their newest film has a nice mixture of known Hollywood talent. Nicolas Cage as the Croods family leader and Emma Stone as his eldest daughter are the stars of the film essentially and each actor is inextricably linked with their animated counterpoint to the point where at some point you are almost guaranteed to stop seeing the animated character and instead see only the actor on screen. This would only be a problem if the actors didn't fit the part which isn't the case here.

This is by leaps and bounds the best film Nicolas Cage has been a part of in years. He steals the show nearly every time he is on screen with that trademark manic Cage personality and some surprisingly endearing moments as this frustrated father figure who is dealing with letting his family go. Emma Stone is her usual adorable self but the real surprise with her character is how much chemistry there is between her and Ryan Reynolds as Guy whom she has more than a passing interest in. Both actors make a strong connection with each other and with the audience as they grow closer together. The other actors who make up the rest of the Croods are also fine in their roles and even some of animal friends they make along the way are a lot of fun.

The one problem area for the film (and this is a criticism of most Dreamworks animated features) is with its story or its lack anything resembling a compelling narrative to be exact. While not horribly derivative, it won't be winning any awards for originality. This "Flinstones" meets "The Incredibles" mixture of a prehistoric family road trip movie hits all the notes one would expect from a story about a dysfunctional family on the road such as an overprotective father who needs to learn to let go, a rebellious daughter who learns to love her father for his stubborn ways, a mother who learns to be independent and a son who learns to be free, but these are a far cry from anything that is even remotely interesting. If it weren't for how likable the characters are, the limp story would be a severe detriment to the film.

But sometimes simplicity is a virtue and with this being a film firmly rooted in the children and/or family market, "The Croods" shines. The simple story is great for the little ones and the memorable characters have just enough meat to them to keep the adults interested while the astounding visuals dazzle everyone of all ages. It may have its share of faults but they aren't enough to detract from an adventure that is just a lot of fun. If you have been waiting for a quality film to take the little ones to or are just looking for a good time at the movies, "The Croods" will fit the bill for almost any occasion and stands tall as the best family oriented film released this year.





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