OK, my second trip to the cinema in the last few weeks with my kids. (Well, sort of…) After spending some quality time with my son watching “Wreck It Ralph” my daughter (5) became insanely jealous and demanded equality (in the way that 5 year old girls do). Given my comments in my last review about PG films and young children, re-visiting “Wreck It Ralph” was not an option. So given the choice of the various U films on offer my daughter chose “The Croods” so it was another trip to the takeaway/ticket office at our local Vue.
If you’ve seen the trailer you will know that the ‘The Croods” is a pre-historic CGI digimation based on the family of the same name. The central character, Eep (sic) played by Emma Stone, lives a life frustrated by her Dad’s (Grug/Nicolas Cage) paranoid attempts to keep his family safe from the various pre-historic threats. However, everything changes when Eep sneaks out of the cave at night and bumps into the enigmatic but charming “Guy” (Ryan Reynolds). As well as being anthropologically more developed, Guy is convinced that disaster is about to ensue the area and so the story begins of the family’s epic journey to higher ground so they can stand a chance of survival.
Visually, the film is stunning. You have the usual high quality of that the Dreamworks team bring to any film but on this occasion it’s more than that. This may sound a little over the top, but, at times, there are shades of Avatar (albeit slightly tongue-in-cheek at times) in the virtual cinematography, and that was just with the 2D version, that I got to see. The central performances are good as are the supporting cast of Mum, Ugga (Catherine Keener), Gran (Cloris Leachman), and Thunk (Clark Duke), but there were a couple of things that bothered me about the film
Firstly, the film’s attempts to make a stone age drama work for a 21st century audience, at times, just didn’t make sense. I’m not talking about the various “Flintstone” type stone-age, technology jokes either; I was expecting those! But when, on the one hand, the family hold subtle discussions about the emotional needs of teenage girls requiring more “space” and then, on the other, are frightened a few moments later by the novelty of seeing their own shadow, you get the impression that they didn’t really think this through.
But the biggest problem for me was much more fundamental. For all its visual spectacle, there was a distinct lack of plot. Really, when you boil it down, the storyline is “Stone-age family tries to get to mountain”. The obvious follow-on question about that is “Do they make it?” but the fact that even beginning to answer that question would spoil the ending highlights a real lack of depth in the films central story.
Already I can hear people shouting “For goodness sake it’s a kids’ film!” I.e. as long as my daughter enjoyed it, the finer problems with the concept and plot don’t matter. So did she enjoy it? Well, yes, but…there were a few periods in the film when she lost interest but the repeated visual spectacle of the film drew her back in. Now that works on the big screen but if we got this out to view at home I think there would be a few parts when she would have lost interest and started jumping from sofa to sofa…if you know what I mean.
But to be honest, I think it does matter. The best family films, in my opinion, are the ones that work over a wide range of ages and personalities. Whilst my daughter thought it was “awesome” I know a few children who would have been less than satisfied due to the lack of a plot to draw them in.
It is the kind of film where, perhaps, you wonder about the creative process that led to it being made. In other words you imagine a meeting in the Disney offices where a group of executive types were struggling to find a “fresh” idea for the new film. Then someone said, “No one has done a pre-historic cartoon for ages!” and so the Croods was born. That might be a cynical view of the film industry, but despite the brilliance of the production, the film did seem to be short on genuine creativity that might have given it originality, consistency and depth.
On the up side, at least the theme of the film managed to break free from what reviewer Simon Dillon referred to as the “Be Yourself Sermon” that Disney seems to have relentlessly preached for the last few years. Unfortunately, due to the lack of plot, I’m not exactly clear as to what the theme of the film actually was. “New things are not always bad” perhaps or “You should trust people who are intellectually superior to you” or possibly “Dads are just trying the best they can”? I’m still not sure now really.
In summary then? Not a bad film to go and see on the big screen particularly if you see it at one of the discount price weekend AM showings that this film will surely be shown at in a few months time. But some might be disappointed by paying the full price for this and I’m not sure it has enough to keep the kids’ attention on the small screen.