Andy Bockelman: ‘The Croods’ has rocks in its head — in a good way
April 4, 2013
"The Croods," rated PG
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Run time: 98 minutes
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Catherine Keener
Steamboat Springs — Watch any rerun of "The Flintstones," and you might think prehistoric people always were at ease with pterodactyl remote controls, mastodon showerheads and more bronto-ribs than you could eat.
As "The Croods" shows us, things weren't quite that simple way back when.
Besides being physically powerful, cave people also had to be careful every moment of their lives, and none is as cautious as caveman Grug (voice of Nicolas Cage), whose extreme protectiveness has helped his family stay alive. Grug's one big rule — "Never not be afraid" — is one his wife (Catherine Keener), son (Clark Duke), mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman) and baby have no problem following. But eldest daughter Eep (Emma Stone) is fed up with being confined to the cave and never being able to explore the outside world.
However, her restlessness may have come to an end.
When a massive earthquake destroys the only home the Croods ever have known, they're forced to venture out into the unknown, a prospect that delights Eep but terrifies Grug. His concern only is heightened when the family meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a puny but brilliant boy who claims he can lead them to a new home. Grug's distaste for Guy's many new inventions only makes the rest of the family embrace them all the more, leaving Grug afraid that the family no longer needs him.
Cage's propensity for grunts and wild screaming makes him an ideal casting choice for primitive patriarch Grug, whose brawn and seemingly endless threshold for pain mask his fear of anything and everything that might harm him or his loved ones. To be fair, it kind of makes sense to be petrified that you might not make it when all your neighbors already have succumbed to one danger or another.
Even so, a teenager in any time period — in this case, the prototype for Neanderthal Barbie complete with fashionable tiger pelt and dirt-covered coif — always is going to rebel against a safe life, and Stone's husky voice works nicely for Eep, whose every interaction with her dad involves a lengthy sarcastic groan. But that same voice turns high and giddy whenever she's around the newcomer and the innovations he introduces to the Croods.
Cue the ear-splitting shriek when she receives her first pair of shoes.
Besides the earliest known footwear and a "belt" with a mind of its own, Reynolds' Guy also gives the family the gift of fire, or as they see it, an infant sun you can hold in your hand.
As the sensible Wilma to Grug's brash Fred, Keener is sweet as his loyal wife, Ugga, while Duke is a chip off the old blockhead as mouth-breathing son Thunk, with youngest child Sandy (Randy Thom) almost completely animalistic, as opposed to the harmless Pebbles to whom we've grown accustomed.
Leachman, of course, always can bring it as the cantankerous grandma — in this case, one who's already exceeded life expectancy by making it to the ancient age of 45, though that doesn't slow her down a bit during family hunting expeditions.
You always can count on DreamWorks Animation to craft a dazzling environment, even when their characters are butt-ugly, and the look of this land before time is as awesome as that of the studio's "Kung Fu Panda" and "How to Train Your Dragon." The co-director of the latter and this feature, Chris Sanders, also voices Guy's sloth sidekick, sounding suspiciously like his past creation, the mischievous alien from "Lilo & Stitch."
There's an aftertaste at work here from the man who's brought us a space abomination and vociferous Vikings, as there is bound to be from brothers and sisters who threaten to rip each other's tongues out and throw old ladies in the air in lieu of a coin toss. Some jokes land, some crash and burn and others make about as much sense as Grug's pathetic attempts to show he can be an inventor, too.
Yet at the core of the story, developed by Sanders, co-director Kirk DeMicco and comedian John Cleese, is a not-so-modern man who would do absolutely anything for his family. Any father in the audience is bound to get at least a little misty-eyed as Grug and Eep work out their relationship amid primordial upheaval, and if the climax doesn't have you bawling, you must be made of stone.
"The Croods" sticks you right in the crook of its smelly, unshaven armpit and doesn't let go. And oddly enough, you get used to its grosser qualities quickly to see the big heart within. It gives you the kind of warm feeling you can get only by painting your face and slamming a rock against it for an old-fashioned snapshot.
Wait, is that a warm feeling or just brain damage?
Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Steamboat Springs.