While perhaps one of the least analyzed part of a film’s production, marketing may be one of the most important pieces in a the success or failure of a movie. When the rules are “survival of the fittest”, making a film look good (or sometimes making a film look better than it is) is job number one for these guys. You want to get the movie promos in front of the right eyeballs, and once there you have to make them want to open their wallets — or in the case of kids, their parent’s wallets. The thing you absolutely want to avoid is making a good film look bad. All the work the artists put in on a movie can be ruined by a bad ad campaign. If that happens the only things that can save you are a great opening date with no competition in sight and word of mouth. That little kid sitting on the moon in the DreamWorks logo should look up — and thank his lucky stars.

Though she may be a neanderthal, Eep is in some ways a typical teenage girl. But this is no modern stone-age family. The Croods live in fear of anything new, and even most old things as well. Death, Grug (the patriarch of the family) reminds them every day, is always at their heels. Hiding and staying in a constant state of fear are your only defenses. But Eep longs to be free of the cave. She gets her chance when a stranger appears, with new ideas, a big new invention, and a story about the end of their world. In order to survive, the Croods must do something new — evolve.

Marketing did The Croods no favors. So I went in with some definite preconceptions. And for the first few minutes they seemed confirmed. The cave drawing intro was very juvenile and silly. The opening narration seemed copied from director Chris Sanders’ previous film How To Train Your Dragon. And when things finally started moving I was a bit turned off by the almost ultra-realistic look of the dry, barren prehistoric world and even the characters themselves. However after a few minutes the action picked up and I was able to look past the look of things. We quickly get into the plot when a new guy named Guy shows up with a warning that something big is happening. And as soon as the beginning of the end of the world begins the design choices made at the start of the film start to make sense. The Croods are thrown into a lost world and the contrast with their previous world could not be more stark (as obviously intended). Beautiful animation, colorful scenery, and brilliant designs fill the screen. The artists went out of their way to come up with new, strange, and amazing flora and fauna to populate the landscape with. The audience is filled with as much awe and wonder as the Croods themselves.

Unfortunately for the characters, awe quickly turns to fear. Out of their depth, the Croods turn to Guy to guide them. The survival story is where most of the humor comes from. Watching the Croods tackle each new challenge on their own before Guy steps in with a solution is great fun. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s actually his realistic simple inventions that are the most entertaining. For example, watching the family use shoes for the first time was much more satisfying than when Guy came up with a convoluted, over-the-top contraption that looked like it came out of a game of Mousetrap.

The plot of the film is ostensibly about the unchanging cavemen family having to adapt to survive, but it’s also about a father who wants nothing more than to protect his family and not being able to do so. And if that weren’t distressing enough for him, at the same time his grown daughter begins the process of doing what every daughter eventually will do — break their daddy’s heart by leaving him for another man. That’s a surprising amount of depth for a film the ads made look so one-dimentional. While that reach is to be commended, the execution isn’t perfect. Occasionally it all gets a little too clichéd and the dialogue a little stilted. But the heart is there even if the words are not.

The filmmakers could have went several ways with the climax. There was a spot about 10 minutes before the actual ending that I was hoping to see the credits start. It would have taken some courage to do it, probably some fighting with executives, and perhaps it wouldn’t have tested well. But it would have turned this film into a classic. The ending we got was not bad though. Expected and uninspired, but not bad.

The voice acting in the film was pretty good. Nicolas Cage was the right pick for Grug — at times. His performance was uneven though. Sometimes spot on, but sometimes it seemed phoned in. Ryan Reynolds was almost a little too hip as Guy. Which, in terms of his role in the story, was probably intentional. Emma Stone was just about perfect as Eep. I would have loved to have seen more of Clark Duke as brother Thunk. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked plot wise but he was such a fun character and so well voiced.

Stunning visuals, a fun and touching story, and mostly solid acting make The Croods a film you’ll enjoy watching. Though with a little polishing — and editing — it could have been a lot more. Still, DreamWorks’ latest is a step up the evolutionary ladder and proves the studio is in no danger of going extinct any time soon.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

The Croods
March 22, 2013
98 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders