The Croods (Blu-ray)
20th Century Fox / 2013 / 98 mins / PG
Just as it seemed as though the Ice Age franchise had drifted off like the continents, Dreamworks develops another prehistorical animated comedy. However, as with most Dreamworks animations that are not a sequel, this familiar story manages to cram in quite a bit of heart and creativity. And despite its suggestive title, this is far from the realm of potty humor and pop culture jokes. You won't see any caveman or dinosaurs laughing at bodily functions or doing a goofy dance number in the final shot.
What you do you get is a competent story of an ignorant family who fears the dangerous world around them. The Croods spend the majority of the days and all of their nights held up in a dark cave, hoping they won't be offed by the peculiar wildlife like so many other human families. The scrappy clan is led by the brute and gruff Grug (Nicolas Cage) who looks after his curious daughter Eep (Emma Stone), his unsure son Thunk (Clark Duke), his caring wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), his vicious youngest daughter Sandy (Randy Thom) and his crafty mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman). The few moments they do spend outside is a struggle for obtaining food from the local animals which is more of a football game than a hunt.
Their simple life of survival is thrown into disarray when their cave is destroyed by the shifting Earth and forces them into a new and colorful forest of great beauty and danger. Fortunately, Eep has befriended a lone adventurer named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) with his sloth companion, Belt, who helps guide them across the land to a safer haven from the apocalyptic event he refers to as "the end". Guy utilizes his new ideas from exploring the land to aid the family in their quest, much to the chagrin of Grug who fears losing his family's confidence in his leadership (especially the love of his daughter who falls for Guy).
It's natural to draw similarities from such a setup to Fox's Ice Age series almost as if it's an attempt at recapturing that old magic with a new face. The good news is that The Croods manages to make a strong first outing with impressive visuals and a solid family dynamic. The characters may not be as iconic, save for Belt with his stinger catchphrase, but they work exceptionally for the story and all of them are used quite well for the script. I also really dug how there is a slightly dark tone to the comedy in which there is a real sense of danger involving natural disasters and vicious species that eat other species. One particular amusing gag is how Grug constantly hopes for the death of his mother-in-law and never relishes an opportunity which may result in her demise.
This isn't a perfect animated feature as it does venture into some typical slapstick and Flintstone-style gags. For the most part, however, the comedy is kept original and fitting with very little detraction in the form of side bits or out-of-place moments. Most of the comedy isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but it does feel genuine enough to warrant a smile at how finely crafted the script was written for it.
But if there is one element I think the film nailed it would have to be the beautifully designed and detailed animation. For a prehistoric film, it manages to avoid the typical dinosaurs and mammoths to present some very unique and cool looking hybrid creatures. All of them from the Bear Owls to the Piranhakeets are wonderful to witness in how they interact with the changing environment.
All in all, it's an amusing cartoon that manages to be a pleasant surprise in how well it detracts from the typical and expected. I really admired how defined the characters were in how they fear the unknown and deal with discoveries. They're not quite as sophisticated as The Flintstones, but not so slow as Captain Caveman. They may not completely understand the concept for fire or the sun, but they have an admirable family spirit that translates well even when they're trying to bash animals with rocks or cautiously tip-toeing through unknown land. The Croods have a real charm that make them likable enough for an entertaining story that will hopefully not stifle with idealess sequels.
The Croods shines spectacularly on this Blu-ray with a perfect 1080p transfer of the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation. Every scene from the dusty plains of barren land to the vibrantly colorful wildlife is a true visual feast of HD animation perfectly suited for the format. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is just as large and epic, accentuating the booming earthquakes and unique ambiance with a pitch-perfect mix.
The special features are fairly weak, but decent for a family film.
"The Croodaceous Creatures of Croods" is a collection of videos with the characters explaining the various and well-designed animal creatures that appear in the film.
"Belt's Cave Journal" is a unique little short focusing on the adventures of Guy and Belt told in the form of colorful cave paintings.
"Be An Artist" is a collection of videos with Supervising Animator Sean Sexton giving a few lessons on how to draw three different characters.
There are also a handful of deleted scenes in the form of line-drawn animatics.
And, finally, there is the theatrical trailer as well as a few previews.
The Croods manages to succeed in both character and visuals for another strong addition to the Dreamworks Animation library, sure to please the whole family. The humor is visually creative, the script is well-built and the computer graphics are beyond words. There is a chance it may go the way of Shrek and Ice Age with too many worn-thin sequels and specials, but as it stands this is one heck of a slick animation certainly worth your time. Highly recommended for the whole family and all those who enjoy a well-scripted animated film.