'The Croods': Wacky and charming
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
Putting an often-clever spin on the classic "family road trip" trope, DreamWorks' "The Croods" sets its wacky family high jinks during prehistoric times, introducing audiences to the eponymous Croods, who are still relying on some of their more animal instincts (alternating between running on all fours and then upright, sleeping in piles, and even trying to take the occasional nip out of their own kin) to survive in a harsh, ever-changing world.
Led by father Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage), the Croods not only have to fear giant owl-cat beasts and a lack of food, but the constant battle between Grug and his headstrong daughter, Eep (voiced by Emma Stone). Grug's motto is "never not be afraid," and the patriarch spends his days protecting his family while also instilling in them a deep paranoia of anything new -- a lifestyle that doesn't work for Eep by both her nature and age (she may be a tough, strong-willed female protagonist, but she's also sometimes just a huffy teenager).
Bored with life in the cave and intrigued by something flashing outside the abode's heavy boulder-as-front door, Eep sneaks out one night, only to discover both a handsome new guy (really, his name is Guy, and he's voiced by Ryan Reynolds) and his cutting-edge companion, fire. Guy also brings news: The world is ending, like, right now, and Eep better come with him if she wants to live.
After a minor family squabble and the unrelated destruction of their precious cave, the Croods go on the run, and the family plunges (quite literally) into a colorful, lush rainforest (one that makes sufficient use of the film's relatively nondescript animated style) that's filled with all manner of wacky, wonderful hybrid creatures, like a Lisa Frank school folder brought to cinematic life. There are tiny blue-spotted elephant mice, chubby land whales shuffling about on clubbed feet, adorable and eager alligator-corgis, and everything in between. It's a fantastic new world that will undoubtedly draw comparisons to "Avatar" (lingering shots of self-propelled puffy plants and an extended sequence in a massive tree make such associations unavoidable), but it will also absolutely keep the little ones enthralled.
The film relies on some minor absurdist humor and old-school jokes (yes, there is a slipping-on-a-banana-peel gag in "The Croods," and even a generous nod to vintage "Bugs Bunny" cartoons, of all things) to generate some unexpected laughs throughout. Yet what "The Croods" really has to offer is a genuinely affecting (and affectionate) story about the importance of familial bonds and finding your way in the big, bad (and weird animal-filled) world. It may not be an instant animated classic, but it's a charmer that will leave the kids (and maybe even a few adults) feeling warm and fuzzy about prehistoric history, and that's worth hollering about.
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.