Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation
Who knew that prehistoric teens had some of the same problems modern-day girls do -- namely, overprotective fathers who try to thwart their sense of adventure? If you're considering taking your cave-crew to see The Croods, read our review from Common Sense Media first!
Rating: Ages 8+
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Croods, while quite funny and gorgeously animated, deals with some pretty heavy themes: the constant risk of death and worries about the end of the world. Prehistoric times are convincingly wild, dangerous, and unstable: Rocks fall, mountains tumble, and the Earth opens up and swallows the ground whole (all made even more immediate when seen in 3-D). The frequent peril and talk of the end of the world are likely to make younger kids nervous. And then there are the conversations about parents dying and kids themselves being in danger; at one point, viewers may even think a central character has perished. Other scenes show characters battling other creatures for supremacy and food, so there's plenty of slapsticky whacking and hitting, too. Female characters do end up getting saved by males, and you may find yourself heading to the Internet to research the accuracy of the movie's creatures and events. All of that said, The Croods has a wonderful message of courage and celebration of adventure at its core, and there are strong, loving family relationships.
What's the story?
Eep (voiced by Emma Stone), a teenage cave-girl living in prehistoric times, longs for adventure in the big open world right outside where she lives with her entire family -- mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), grandmother Gran (Cloris Leachman), brother Thunk (Clark Duke), baby sister Sandy (Randy Thom), and dad Grug (Nicolas Cage). Grug is a traditionalist, believing that there's no safe place beyond the cold dark of their hideout cave. He thinks that Eep should rein in her adventurous side because it can only lead to danger, that you should "never not be afraid." He means well, but Eep feels very constrained. She longs to explore what lies beyond their hole-in-the-mountain wall, and not only when it's time to hunt for food. One day, she sneaks out, lured by a sliver of light, and meets a young man named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who knows how to start a fire. He's a confident explorer with an adorable creature named Belt (Chris Sanders) as his only companion. Guy knows there are big changes ahead: The ground is literally shifting under their feet. Guy thinks Eep and her family have to run to safety with him, but to where? A whole new world that even the anxious Grug concedes may be the only key to survival. But that means going out into the open for the Croods, and they aren't used to being so vulnerable.
Is it any good?
What makes The Croods great is how it doesn't just rest on its CGI glories (though they're pretty amazing -- see below!). Though the visuals are exciting, there's a steady heartbeat that booms at the movie's center. Stone Age they may be, but Grug -- and, to a certain extent, Ugga -- struggle with a parenting dilemma that iPhone-lugging moms and dads experience, too: having to let go of children on the cusp of adulthood and, even more important, learning from them, too, as they experience a bigger, more complicated world. The Croods explores this dynamic with compassion and surprising depth. There aren't as many knowing winks at the audience as most other movies in this genre, but you won't miss them much. Would it be icing on the cake if a film with an assertive, intelligent teenage girl as its main character didn't end up having her -- and the other females, for that matter -- rely on the men to save them? Yes. Does it take away from the film's girl-power message? A little. Is this an awesome film anyway? Definitely.
And now back to those visuals: The Croods brings us into a world we've only imagined, animating it with what begins as a textured, painterly rendering and changes into a colorful, remarkable prehistoric world filled with every color on the wheel. The landscape is a buffet of eye candy. The characters' voices are expressive, their faces and gestures equally so. When Eep is lured out into the sun by a tantalizing ray of light, her joy in exploring is palpable. When we see what she sees, we understand why she disobeys. Directors Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders don't hurry the story along -- a welcome relief -- because there's so much to see and experience with Guy and the Croods. Some scenes are actually a bit overstuffed, teetering on the edge of migraine-inducing: Prehistoric animal mash-ups whiz by, squawking and squealing, while Eep and her family grunt, hurl, bounce, jump, shimmy, and serve up quick banter to boot. But thankfully, we also get quieter moments that allow the characters -- and, by extension, the audience -- to think and appreciate the previous thrills.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
-- Families can talk about The Croods' themes. In a wild world like the Croods', danger really was around every corner. But did the talk about the end of the world and characters dying scare you? Parents, reassure younger kids that times are very different today.
-- Talk to your kids about Eep. How does she break stereotypes (or conform to them)? Is she a role model? Is Guy's?
-- Grug's family motto is "Never not be afraid." Is this good advice? If not, why not? Does it work for Grug and his family?
-- How historically accurate do you think The Croods is? How could you find out more about prehistoric facts? And how important is it for animated, fictional movies to stick close to history?