"The Croods" Review: Dazzling Visuals Make Up For Excessive Slapstick, Cookie-Cutter Plot


I want to kill myself.

Here I was, all psyched to see The Croods, Dreamworks' new feature animation starring Emma Stone and Nicholas Cage when, to my dismay, I found out that no, that will not be the case at all. "Your Croods won't have no Emma Stone or Nic Cage," said the Universe unto me, gazing down from its starry throne in the heavens. "Have you forgotten you live in the jungle? You get to see the movie dubbed by crappy Brazilian voice-actors instead, and don't complain or I'll smite your third-world ass right where you stand!"

And so it was that I had to watch the thing voiced by the same overworked four or five guys who do everything around here from Honda commercials to phone-tree recordings. That may seem like a petty complaint to some, but this actually makes a whole lot of difference. To those who don't know, the animation in these films is always done only after the voices are recorded, and so all the character movements and body language are based on what the original actor was expressing in his voice. That gets totally lost in translation. Plus, the importance of the original voice work carries special weight in movies like this, where the very character design is modeled after the real-life actors' likenesses. Eep, the Emma Stone character, for instance, even has her overbite and slightly gaping teeth and everything. It's basically an exaggerated version of her.

So I won't be able to evaluate the acting on the movie for American audiences. Yeah, sucks to be you, but you know what sucks even more? ME! I mean, to be me. It sucks to be me.

Well, ok, I suck too.

So it's the dusk of mankind, and our heroes are a family of vaguely human cave-things called "The Croods." They're Grug (Nicholas Cage), the patriarch; Ugga (Catherine Keener), the matriarch; and Eep (Emma Stone) the daughterarch; plus her brother Thunk (Clark Duke), her sister Sandy (Randy Thom), and her grandmother Gran (Cloris Leachman). We learn from a short introduction that they're the last remaining dwellers of their valley, their survival due in large part to Grug's unrelenting faith in a very strict set of rules that forbids them of ever coming into contact with anything remotely unfamiliar. Thus, they live in a cave and only venture outside when its time to go foraging for food (which they do in the most roundabout possible manner against a kickass big-band soundtrack in one of the movie's coolest scenes). The film seems to be of the opinion that such wariness is uncalled for, but after we hear what happened to the other families in the neighborhood  basically all kinds of death there is  it seems like pretty sound advice.

Well, fate hits the Croods like a curveball right in the eye when Eep meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), an awkward but far more advanced form of human being who holds the secret of fire and has a knack for invention. Guy warns them of a coming apocalypse that has already paid a visit to other corners of the Earth and is soon to be upon them. The protagonists don't take the newcomer's advice at first, but then, lo and behold, the cataclysm shows itself up right on cue, shattering the ground bellow their feet and turning their formerly cozy abode into a heap of rocks. The Croods are forced to leave their comfort zone and escape to a mysterious land of abundance and danger, where they will have to team-up with the stranger that warned them and also overcome their fear in order to blah blah blah, you know, the whole shebang.

The story is pretty boilerplate and the characters are none too original, too. You have the rebellious daughter, the jealous father who is reluctant to accept her new boyfriend, the nagging grandmother, the non-entity wife, etc. What really separates The Croods from every other thing ever is its dazzling visuals.

I'm gonna go out on a risky limb here and assume that none of the creatures featured in The Croods are real. I'm no paleontologist, but I'm at least 85% sure that there were never  any kind of four-winged flying turtles, or weird rattlephants, or fish-tailed ostriches roaming the Earth during any period of our history, and this is actually one of the best aspects of the film. Sure, they could have done extensive research on the wildlife and living conditions of the stone age ... but why do that when your software can render literally anything your brain can come up with? It makes for a stunning display of color and imagination. Everything is beautiful in a freaky sort of way, like a skewed image of our own reality filtered through a soap bubble. The 3D animation is both stunning and far too advanced for our time, so I suspect the developers traveled to the future and brought back the the future peoples' rendering technologies to the present. Either that, or they used black magic. In which case I hope they followed the proper procedure or their souls might be forever tethered to the Dark Lords of the Abyss.

Regardless, it was worth it. I was literally slack-jawed for half the film.

Where the movie falls short, however, is on the narrative. Not the story. The story is pretty adequate. Safe, but it has its moments, and it's even emotional at times.

No, what hinders the experience is the pacing. This thing needs a prescription for Ritalin stat. The creators seemed to be too afraid that the audience was going to give up and walk away if they gave them more than half a second to breathe, so the film is in constant motion like a high-speed train that burned its ass on a grill and never attended a "stop, drop and roll" seminar. And to make matters worse, most of that constant motion is spent on slapstick. This movie stuffs itself with physical comedy like it's the last day at the Discount Slapstick Warehouse's "Crazy Weekend of Insane Savings" and it has to get rid of dozens of coupons that are about to expire. Physical jokes are up the wazoo, and it gets tiring really fast. After a while, the projectionist could replace the screen with a strobe light and I'd wager that half the audience wouldn't even notice the difference.

There's a time and a place for slapstick, you know. You may be proud of your slapstick, and you may even have good reason for your pride, but that doesn't mean you have free rein to just go around swinging it in the face of the public like it's a little colored pinwheel that you bought at the county fair. It's rude and inappropriate, and might even get you arrested, so keep your slapstick where it belongs: in your pants.

I may have lost track of that metaphor at some point there.

So that's almost a deal breaker. All that pie in the face may be amusing to the littlest of kids, but I've been a grown-up for a while now. I even slice my own beef and pee standing up. My tastes run deeper. I don't need this crap.

So if there's one lesson you should take home from The Croods, it's that you shouldn't watch it in Portuguese.