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Movie Review – The Croods

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Movie Review – The Croods

Rating: A- (Great)

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In today’s American animated cinema, one of the most consistent and reliable filmmakers has been Chris Sanders. An auteur in his own right, he is able to visibly put his own stamp on a project with his wicked sense of humour, understanding of action and ability at designing adorable creatures. This even stems back to his pre-directing days, when he storyboarded the exciting wolf chase in Beauty and the Beast and the emotional return of Mufasa’s ghost in The Lion King. Following his awe-inspiring directorial efforts with Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon, it comes as little surprise that Sanders has delivered another success with The Croods.

Working from a story originally conceived by John Cleese, Chris Sanders (and his co-director Kirk De Micco) brings a lot of clever humour to The Croods that does not simply rely on easy jokes and pop-culture references. With Dragon, he showed DreamWorks Animation could produce a drama again and in this new film, few of the studio’s old ways of comedy writing appear on the screen. The screenplay even ventures away from The Flintstones style of making rock puns for the entire running time. A lot of the humour is derived from the characters and their situation of trying to adapt to a world outside of their destroyed cave and the more modern and appropriately named Guy, showing that curiousity and invention are not bad ideals to have. The slapstick comedy is also very creative, taking the Looney Tunes route of causing physical harm to the characters and the screenplay is not afraid of getting very dark, especially with a flock of carnivorous birds.

The visual splendor of The Croods is absolutely stunning, with some incredibly flora and light filling the screen, showing that computer animation has reached the point of creating beautiful scenery that rivals even the best hand-drawn features. Roger Deakins has become the go-to cinematography consultant for animated features for the past number of years and chances are if his name is in the credits, the final result is going to look amazing. The camera moves in a way that takes full advantage of the medium, with an early sequence of an egg hunt going at break-neck speed. These dashes of cinematographic inspiration do not simply serve as a way for the film to look pretty, but actually manage to advance the story and characters. Adding more to the uniqueness of the picture, the humorously clever prologue is done in traditional animation (as supervised by the great James Baxter).

The character designs are also fantastic, especially on the animals. Sanders creates a lot of original creatures, though not surprisingly, a very ferocious cat strongly resembles Stitch and Toothless. The humans also have that proper caveman look, while also fitting their individual personalities. Eep, the lead cave-girl, is even given the appropriate body of somebody accustomed to a wild lifestyle. Rather than the stereotypical thin female look one tends to find in animated films, she has strong legs and built body and a more round head. Line Andersen’s fantastic animation aids the character even further with facial expressions that hit every emotional, excited or curious point. One particular highlight is her reaction to the world’s first pair of shoes to fit a woman’s feet. The best character animation are those in which we know what they are thinking without saying a word and all of the Croods and Guy accomplish this feat, but especially Eep. The rendering is also impressive, with the skin textures coming close to photo-realism.

The voice cast is mostly a solid bunch. It is the usual DreamWorks selection of celebrity choices with no true stand-outs, but Emma Stone captures the necessary warmth and humour of Eep and she shares strong chemistry with Ryan Reynolds’ Guy. The only lifeless performance in the ensemble is Nicolas Cage. While he has a tendency to go over-the-top and animated in his live-action roles, he ironically does not have the voice for a cartoon character. In addition to sounding emotionless, he seems to be simply reading off of the page, thus becoming difficult not to imagine Cage in the recording booth. While the other actors managed to become the characters, Grug was simply a caveman with Nicolas Cage’s voice.

Finally, what sells The Croods as one of the best DreamWorks Animations is the emotional element. While using the storyline of the rebellious daughter at odds with her over-protective father, Chris Sanders brings the right balance of heart. Eep and Grug’s individual points of view are understandable and the film hits the sweet point at the correct moments to leave an impact. Their relationship is nicely handled as is the character development. This even extends to Guy and his motivations, with Sanders only giving us enough information to cause the right audience response. And again, the light and the camera angles are key to this. Walt Disney used to say “For every laugh, there should be a tear” and The Croods definitely follows that rule.

The concept of cavemen living in a hostile environment is not new, but Chris Sanders makes it unique in The Croods with its likeable set of characters and incredible visuals. John Cleese’s original draft was likely changed substantially over the course of this film’s long production history. However, with a talented filmmaker like Chris Sanders and his crew of artists (which also includes Aladdin story supervisor Ed Gombert as head of story), the final version does not feel like a downgrade or that we were cheated out of something great. As strong as the original story probably was, the final result is definitely a winning addition to the growing catalogue of DreamWorks Animation.

 

By: Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

movie review the croods

movie review the croods


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