Movie Review: The Croods
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: March 22, 2013
Directed by: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone
Stars: 4 out of 5
Nicolas Cage is the most infuriating actor of his generation. An amazing talent, Cage seems to have been on a mission for the past twenty years to punish and mislead his fans. "Bringing out the Dead" was a dark idyll-the type that simply doesn't get made in Hollywood-while "Leaving Las Vegas," in spite of its many accolades, was a cinematic catastrophe. "The Rock" might have been one of the most egregious wastes of talent since Mickey Mantle's retirement, but Cage was also the living heart of "Matchstick Men," a film whose plot was so convoluted and absurd that only Nicolas Kim Coppola and his unique talents could have pulled it off. Just as it's only possible to beat a path through "Finnegan's Wake" by remembering that James Joyce also wrote "Dubliners"-therefore, he's writing badly on purpose-so too Cage's shameful involvement in "The Wicker Man" is an insult made bearable only by "8MM" and the miraculous way he rescued the otherwise unbearable "Gone in Sixty Seconds."
So which Nicolas Cage shows up for "The Croods"? Well, it's an animated and family-friendly movie featuring a performance by Cloris Leachman, so anything goes. After their cave is destroyed, The Crood family-isn't that witty? "The Croods," as in "crude"; prett-ee funn-ee!-must embark upon a long and hazardous trip across a potentially hostile landscape to find a new home-like "Battlestar Galactica," but without the actual Battlestar or Galactica parts. Along the way, they meet a plethora of interesting characters and interact with the odd creatures of their prehistoric world, ensuring their lives can never again be the same. The astute viewer will recognize this as the epic quest-style story, a creative well that's been visited more often than Stonehenge, and generally for about the same length of time.
The "hero's journey" type of story has always been rich fodder for creative writers-no less an authority than Homer would agree-in that it takes a set of developed and familiar characters and pits them against adversity most grand. After chasing the hero or heroes out of a comfortable rut, it's possible for a writer to work in almost any kind of scene, concept, or supporting character. When the story is liberated from the confines of sober naturalism-that is, when the film is set in outer space, the far future, or so far back in the past that nobody knows what was going on-the writer's imagination is restrained only by what the makeup department can accomplish with forehead latex. If you animate the film, even this restriction is set aside. "The Croods" is the beneficiary of this freedom, and it makes the most of it, showcasing an entire world filled with fantastical creatures. Meanwhile, various plot contrivances make "The Croods" unusual for a Nicolas Cage movie. It's not just unlike "The Weather Man," which was a fundamentally unsound movie lucky enough to be buoyed by Cage's talent, but it's even entirely unlike "Grindhouse," which was beyond saving entirely. "The Croods" is actually capable of standing on its own-with or without Cage's efforts to preserve it.
The end of an era, perhaps? Think again: it's rumored that Cage is on board for "National Treasure 3."
Apart from Nicolas Cage-if anything in creation can truly be said to be "apart from Nicolas Cage"-the other elements of "The Croods" come together well. The animation is crisp and beautiful to behold. The script is humorous when called for. Plus, the film has been marketed well enough that it recovered a third of its budget over its opening weekend, so there's that.
One element that's hard to gauge in an animated film is the direction. "The Croods" had two directors, Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, who also led the writers' team. Often, too many hands in the cinematic kitchen spoil the extended-metaphor broth, but in this case, the danger of disjointing the critical elements of the film has been avoided. It seems as though De Micco and Sanders are that rarest of constellations: a pair of writers/directors who work together well enough to turn out hits despite their names being neither Coen nor Wachowski. It's reasonable to expect even more from this pair, and if their efforts in "The Croods" are typical, then their future projects are to be anticipated eagerly.
Also, Nicolas Cage might need someplace to crash in a few years, so maybe keep your couch open for him. None of us want to see him do "Bangkok Dangerous" again.