Fantasy, 98 Minutes, 2013
The Croods are cavemen. In fact, after a series of misadventures, they are the very last cavemen in their area. They say they survive by fearing everything, rarely leaving their cave and never doing anything new. They actually survive via bombastic, attention-drawing action sequences that completely ignore everything they say.
When the Croods cave is destroyed by a nebulous earthquaky, firebally, argmageddony kind of thing they team up with a lonely wanderer, Guy, from a more advanced tribe. He introduces them to fire, new ideas and new ways of doing things which are difficult for the head of the family, Grug, to accept.
Guy is convinced that the world is ending and that they have to reach a distant mountain to be safe. Why? We never know, but massive disaster does seem to follow the group’s progress. There’s some intimation that the disaster is related to tectonic drift, but that’s just really… stupid. In fact this whole plot point is really, really stupid. It’s just a giant plot driving MacGuffin that produces exactly what the script needs no matter how impossibly brain-dead it may be.
Of course, who knows how this world works? While you might naturally expect a movie about cavemen to be set in our past, it’s clear this just isn’t. The characters are cavemen but they’re not us and this isn’t Earth. The plants and animals seem to be cobbled together from parts of modern animals but have no grounding in reality at all. We get flying turtles, walking whales, Siamese lemurs and giant-headed super predators that look like they came straight out of children’s anime.
By making the primary threat nebulous, unpredictable and ultimately ignorable they completely neuter any sense of suspense or tension. By veering so far and so clearly into fantasy with the flora and fauna, they limit the empathy and kinship that we might have felt with the family. (It’s also a shame because there were some truly awesome things wandering around the actual Paleolithic.) What could have been a story about our forebears becomes, instead, just another flight of fancy of no consequence.
The movie is beautifully rendered and the voice-work well done. The personal interactions are generally believable, if heavy-handed, and the emotional arc understandable, if clichéd. Kids should love it. If the primary motivation had been solidified and the setting more grounded, this would have handily risen above the pack. As is, this is a pretty good story based on an increasingly ridiculous premise that ultimately drags it down into the soup of forgettable animated family fare.