Coming off of the success of How to Train Your Dragon 3 years earlier, Chris Sanders was hired to direct The Croods in the hopes that he could spin gold out of another potential franchise.
This time Sanders would co-direct with Kirk DeMicco while How to Train Your Dragon co-director Dean DeBlois handled that movie’s sequel.
The Croods tells the story of a family of cavemen who live under the rule of a patriarch named Grug (Nicolas Cage) who tells his wife and children that staying in their cave and living in fear of the outside world is the best way to stay safe.
However, this way of life does not go over well with his oldest daughter Eep (Emma Stone) who is endlessly curious and whose personality constantly clashes with that of her over-protective father, not to mention the rest of her family, mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), grandma Gran (Cloris Leachman), brother Thunk (Clark Duke) and baby sister Sandy.
The family gets their life turned upside-down when their cave is destroyed in an earthquake and Eep meets a more civilized stranger named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) whose advanced living methods and ability to start fires comes off as mystical to the Croods.
The primary conflict of the film comes when Grug’s family chooses Guy’s way of living over Grugs, and when Eep refuses to hide in caves anymore after realizing that “not dying” is not the same as living..
Grug is the most stubborn Crood and as a result he is the last family member to support Eep, but he redeems himself near the end of the movie when he makes a huge sacrifice in support of his daughter and the rest of his family’s wishes.
The Croods has the smallest cast of any DreamWorks film so the narrative is more tightly focused than usual. There are no real villains or side-plots, which makes the story simple. One of the reasons why the movie works so well is because simple stories invite richer characterization. Too much plot tends to steal focus.
Another appealing aspect of the film is its family themes. Not many animated films feature a single family as the main cast, but more should! After all, families are the main audience for these films and both The Incredibles and The Croods are popular hits that currently have sequels on the way.
Also of particular note is the visuals. I don’t think the computer animation in a Dreamworks film has ever looked better, and the colorful flora and fauna throughout the environments are beautifully realized. It reminded me of Avatar, and looking at all the creatures in this movie, I’m not surprised that it is from the same director as Disney’s equally creative Lilo & Stitch.
The score is composed with reliable gusto by Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, Lilo & Stitch), whose music shines early on during the egg-hunting sequence, which is the best scene in the movie.
Overall, this is one of DreamWorks’ best animated films. It does slightly come off formulaic when it echoes themes from other animated films like The Little Mermaid (the father-daughter relationship) and Toy Story (jealousy over the new guy), but when it focuses on the family relationships at the heart of the story, that’s when The Croods shines brightest.