‘The Croods’ somewhat delivers the goods
MANILA, Philippines - While viewing “The Croods,” an animated movie that people of any age can watch, I could not help but remember a memento from my grade-school childhood: the highly addictive handheld video games in Nintendo’s Game & Watch (G&W) series.
There were several G&W iterations. Starting with 1980’s “Ball,” there came “Manhole,” “Helmet,” “Parachute,” “Octopus,” and a whole lot more. In the end, there were over 50 different yet identical G&W games, coming in black-and-white LCD screens that featured simplistic, just-keep-going challenges of either the catch-something scheme or avoid-getting-caught-or-hit sort.
What has that 3-decades-ago phenomenon have to do with “The Croods”?
To be sure, the latest movie from Dreamworks Animation — its first with 20th Century Fox as distributor — is not entirely like a game, though there is at least one long segment which feels like a multi-player take on one of today’s tablet hits, “Temple Run.”
No, the comparison is because “The Croods,” while presumably conceived by its makers as a standalone concoction, feels like part of a string of similar movies the way the G&W games were.
Specifically, “The Croods” feels like merely the latest in a succession of animated flicks — not just by Dreamworks but by Hollywood in general — that bear more similarities than differences from many of its predecessors.
In other words, “The Croods” is a new movie that feels kind of old, a new movie that you’ve seen before, so to speak.
This trait is most evident in the movie’s overall story and array of themes.
“The Croods” of the title are a prehistoric family whose nomadic existence is marked by limited sustenance and fear of the unknown. Their normalcy is threatened by the feisty, free-spirited daughter in the brood and a gentleman stranger with a head full of, gasp, ideas. Their very world is supposedly threatened by impending cataclysm yet they find themselves lost in a lush environment filled with rather fantastical creatures.
“The Croods” even throws in some slapsticky humor that would not be out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Its second act is also loaded with verdant sights of strange fauna and even stranger flora that could make “Avatar” overlord James Cameron blush.
And there are two to 3 scenes showing good old storytelling which, while nice in depicting the timeless human ache for tall or real tales, come off as pats on its own back for the movie biz — a self-congratulatory stunt nitpickers would say was done not too long ago by “Argo.”
Likewise evident with “The Croods” is the way every other line of dialogue is stressed as a quotable quote, such as “Never not be afraid,” “Darkness brings death” and “Don’t hide; live.” (A personal pick: When the head Crood gets next to nothing during a meal, he says, “That’s okay. I ate last week.”)
There is also a running, one-track mother-in-law gag that sounds tired from the get-go yet gets reprised at least twice later on. (The biyenan jokes on Pinoy TV’s “John en Marsha” are more rib-tickling in comparison.) On top of all that is a necessary evil slash awkward distraction: “The Croods’” crude characters speak rather competent English, a jarring facet that calls to mind Disney’s “Dinosaur.”
Its lack of narrative freshness aside, “The Croods” is far from utterly deplorable, hardly worthy of a boycott.
Its animation, for one thing, is stunning. That is not just in the way the 3D enhancement conjures the illusion of things coming out of nowhere (instead of in-your-face) but also in the whole thing’s tangibility, to the point that if you touched the screen you could practically pinch a Crood’s cheeks.
The made-up cinematography is infused as well with notable realism, the “camera” at times jerking to signify visual surprise. The voice work may be by celebrities — Dreamworks has always eschewed the Pixar mode of casting lesser-known stars — but the work on “The Croods” by lead actors Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and especially Nicolas Cage have a palpable joy to them that is a hoot to hear.
The screenplay, credited to directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders (with initial story input from esteemed comedian John Cleese), does have flashes of conceptual brilliance, such as calling the sun “baby fire,” an on-top-of-one-another mode of sleeping called the “pileup,” and the first ever “snapshot.”
And there are moments of genuine hilarity guaranteed to elicit wide smiles from kids-at-heart and actual children alike.
All told, “The Croods” is hardly refreshing or boldly out-there if pitted against, say, Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time.” Yet this newest, inevitable box-office bonanza is an okay 98 minutes of family-friendly enjoyment.
Pleasing to the eye, occasionally tickling the funny bone, mildly teasing the brain and, shucks, even nudging the heart and tear ducts, “The Croods” somewhat delivers the goods. - Rappler.com
('The Croods' rated G by the MTRCB is screening in Philippine cinemas.)