When is a cavemen not a cavemen? In the case of the new animated movie The Croods, it's when the family of "cavemen" in question looks cosmetically like Neanderthals but seem to have the powers of superheroes and live on a planet whose flora and fauna most closely resembles that of the alien world of Pandora in the movie Avatar. The members of the Crood family (voiced by Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Katherine Keener, Clark Duke, Randy Thom, and Cloris Leachman) are seemingly able to run faster than caffeinated cheetahs, hurl themselves dozens of feet in the air, perform acrobatics like Spider-Man at the X Games, and survive falls that would reduce a normal human (or even an early human) to a pile of mush. In fact, it seems like the only reason to make the characters in The Croods cavemen is to draft off of the success of the Ice Age franchise. Watch my ReThink Review of The Croods below (transcript following).
Blue Sky studios is the company behind the ultra-successful Ice Age franchise, as well as The Croods, which you'd think is following the same winning formula of having a group of characters traipsing across a prehistoric landscape, encountering animals and scenarios more or less consistent with what we know from the fossil record. But that's barely what The Croods is, and to explain why, here's my impression of a bunch of Dreamworks executives:
"Those Ice Age movies have done so well, we should make a movie that's exactly the same, but different."
"Good idea! You know, superhero movies are doing well, so let's make it like that, too."
"Awesome! But you know what movie has made the most money? Avatar! So let's make it like that, too!"
And that might explain why The Croods is such a mess.
The Croods are a family of cavemen -- the father Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage), his wife Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener), their adventurous daughter Eep (voiced by Emma Stone), their dimwitted son Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke), their seemingly feral baby Sandy (voiced by Randy Thom), and Ugga's mom Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman). While The Croods are presumably Neanderthals, you wouldn't know it from one of the film's opening scenes, where we see that every family member, including Gran and baby Sandy, is capable of running 50 mph, jumping dozens of feet in the air, and in Grug's case, is able to perform feats of strength more suited to the incredible Hulk. Eep, with her stocky gymnast's build, is able to jump and perform acrobatics that would make Spider-Man jealous, despite spending the film wearing an inappropriately short tiger skin cocktail dress.
The family spends most of the time shut in a cave in a desert canyon, only emerging briefly for food, largely due to Grug's uncleverly blunt and repeated proclamations and parables that curiosity and things that are new are bad and that, in life, one should, "Never not be afraid." But Eep wants more from life, and she finds it in Guy, a more evolved human, maybe a cro-magnon, voiced by Ryan Reynolds who's mastered fire and other more advanced technologies. Guy, who sort of develops a mutual crush on Eep, is convinced, and it's never explained why, that a geological catastrophe is coming, and when an earthquake destroys The Croods' cave and reveals a lush, forested new land, the family decides to follow Guy to safety.
Now much is known about the amazing flora and fauna that existed at the same time as the Neanderthals, and portraying it realistically could potentially get young viewers interested in studying prehistory, just as Finding Nemo will surely inspire generations of young marine biologists. But for some reason, the makers of The Croods decided to totally fabricate an alien environment that most closely resembles the forests of Pandora in Avatar, with swarming piranha birds, fluorescent giant-headed tigers, and feathered wolf owls. Is the actual prehistoric world with its diversity of extinct animals and plants so boring that it needs to be spiced up with flying turtles and giant corncobs that turn into rockets?
The Croods had an opportunity to maybe make an interesting point about overcoming differences in race, class, or education, contrasting the more advanced Guy with The Croods. But this movie isn't interested in that kind of thoughtfulness or complexity, but is instead focused on being loud, fast, slapsticky, colorful, and shallow, even if doing so creates a world that makes no sense. Another way to say it is that this is no Pixar movie, and while a lot of the visuals in The Croods are pretty impressive, the film's lack of substance and interesting characters really highlights how Pixar's real edge isn't in technology, but in how much time they put in to developing their stories. I'm sure small kids will be amused by The Croods and its physical humor, but as an adult, I think I would've been much more entertained watching a weirdo like Nicolas Cage recording his dialogue than I was watching this uninspiring, incongruous effort.