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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Croods (review)

Croods red light

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): the trailer looked idiotic

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)


I’m desperately trying to figure out the backstory of the Croods.

Not the movie The Croods, because it’s patently obvious that lush, gorgeous animation plus simplistic story sledgehammered home with embarrassingly on-the-nose dialogue that elucidates impossible-to-refute themes — “be yourself”; “family is important” — that will also dub equally easily into Mandarin and Russian and Spanish equals global box office jackpot. Or that at least that was the totality of the thought process behind the flick.

And so thereby we solve a small mystery, which had been: What happens when you pair up the writer and director of the dire Space Chimps — that would be Kirk De Micco — with Chris Sanders, the writer and director of the glorious How to Train Your Dragon and Lilo & Stitch? The answer: It all gets dumbed down to the Space Chimps level.

But it’s the larger mystery of the Croods — the actual family of characters and the world they inhabit — that has me stumped. Who are they? How did they get where they are? It’s an enormous conundrum, and pondering it was pretty much the only thing that kept me awake while enduring the film.

See, cuz here we have a small group of cavefolk all on their lonesome, part of no larger social group or kin network, which is completely contrary to everything we know about how humans live today and have lived in the past, right back to when we were mere protohumans. So whether the Croods — dad Grug (the voice of Nicolas Cage: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Drive Angry), mom Ugga (the voice of Catherine Keener: The Oranges, Trust) and her mom (the voice of Cloris Leachman: Gambit, The Women), daughter Eep (the voice of Emma Stone: Gangster Squad, Movie 43), and son Thunk (the voice of Clark Duke: Hot Tub Time Machine, Kick-Ass) — are supposed to be Cro-Magnons or Neanderthals or whatever, we would expect them to be living in a tribe with other families. And they aren’t.

So I surmise that this is not an accurate depiction of prehistoric human lifestyles.

Where the Croods live is equally puzzling. It almost looks like Death Valley, the sere, rocky landscape their harsh cave-home is on the edge of. When a massive earthquake forces them to leave this land, they discover, literally right over one ledge and utterly untouched by the quake, a completely different environment riotous with pastel-colored vegetation and teeming with strange animals. If the awesome yet oddly narrow destructive power of that earthquake weren’t enough, the environment here — through which the Croods must travel to find a new home — seals it: The Croods is as geologically dubious as it is sociologically suspect.

Perhaps the Croods came through the same wormhole that tripped up De Micco’s space chimps. The planet they live on does more resemble Pandora than Earth, what with all the psychedelic plantlife and oddly appendaged critters. Or it could be Stitch’s homeworld — some of the animals look more like him than anything planet Earth has ever seen. Were the Croods abducted by aliens and deposited on a distant planet in some sort of demented experiment?

Unless… oh my gawd, I think I’ve got it. Was The Croods secretly produced by the Institute for Creation Research? Though it’s not mentioned in the film that I can recall, all the marketing makes it clear that the Croods are supposed to be “the world’s first family” — and who but Western creationists would believe that the world’s first family was white? Or that humans coexisted with dinosaur-esque creatures and were around when the original supercontinent Pangea started breaking up (as is hinted is supposed to be the reason for the earthquake)? Or that humanity was created intact with 1950s values: change is to be feared; curiosity is to be quashed; father knows best; mothers-in-laws are awful (and the subset: only women who are “ugly” or annoying have body hair); women love shoes? Because these are the tenets that the Croods live by. And there’s another one, too: a dad must protect his daughter’s “virtue.” This comes in when the Croods meet Guy (the voice of Ryan Reynolds: Ted, Safe House), who has “ideas” and uses newfangled things like “fire,” and so naturally Eep — who wants so much more than this provincial life — finds him attractive, which somehow threatens Grug as a father. But wait! If the Croods are the first family, where the heck did Guy come from?

The Croods! For everyone who loved The Flintstones, but didn’t find it depressingly conventional and conservative enough.


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The Croods (2013)
US/Can release: Mar 22 2013
UK/Ire release: Mar 22 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated PH (contains prehistoric humor)
MPAA: rated PG for some scary action
BBFC: rated U (contains mild threat)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • teenygozer

    Typo alert:

    The Croods! For everyone who loved , but didn’t find it depressingly conventional and conservative enough.

    For everyone who loved what? ;)

    Depressing to read this as I loved How To Train Your Dragon, but I suspected as much when I saw the ghastly trailer.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I think she meant The Flintstones.

  • Hey you’re logicality in an animated film this bad, because since the animation was created, everything is fantasy One of the first animated film was a mouse and did everything we humans do q. From there we have seen countless movies, with every ilogicidades. As {i have seen fish that take decisions, to think and make plans: Finding Nemo, Up, Ratatouille, Lion King, A bugs life, etc; inanimate beings that act like humans: Cars 1 and 2, Toy Story saga, Wall-E; unreal worlds with strange beings outside logic: Lilo and Stich, Spirit away, etc; illogical situations: all movies als role of superheroes and science fiction and countless etc.

    You see a production come to denigrate because it leaves the logic of history is definitely out of place.

    Oh and I wanted to narrate the whole story from the creation of the world, expect a 20-hour movie?

  • Mark R

    What’s becoming “depressingly conventional” is critics using movie reviews as nothing more than a platform for their tedious liberal politics. MaryAnn was in such a hurry to get to that slam of creationists, she didn’t even bother constructing a coherent evaluation of The Croods. This essay(like much of the soapboxing that infects rotten tomatoes) isn’t so much a “review” as it is a self -serving editorial.

  • Fixed. Typo in the tag.

  • I think I understand what you’re saying.

    It’s funny that so many people can come to the defense of a film based on the fact that it’s a fantasy and yet cannot see that it’s a problem that the writing — the themes, the characters, the plot — is so sorely lacking in imaginaton.

  • Captain_Swing666

    It’ll do – I will now go and watch something else in the full knowledge that “The Croods” is borderline moronic with a cookie cutter plot, insulting characterisation and dubious morality (But other than that how was the play Mrs Lincoln).

    If I managed to extract that from her “slam of creationists” imagine what someone with a more subtle understanding of semiotics will get from it?

  • Chuck

    I wonder how much 20th Century Fox pays for Social Media “Shaping”.

  • Nina

    The billboards, which are plastered up all over LA, are revolting to look at & not at all any incentive to waste my time & money on seeing this dreck.

  • Get Over Yourself

    I’m shocked that you have this job. This review was so bloated with ignorance and petty political grandstanding that it serves no purpose to the public reading it. The fact that you throw politics into an animated movie made for a younger audience is pathetic. Did you even bother to watch the movie or were you so offended that a film could be supportive of the family dynamic that you just decided to write a slam piece no matter what? What is really sad, I guess, are the people that read your “hive minded” work and think that it is a accurate representation of the quality of a film. You should find another line of work.

  • Beowulf

    Where are you from? Clearly, you have filled the “village idiot” position.
    I often disagree with MA, but I’m not a jerk about it.

  • WorkedOnThisMovie

    How does this:
    “Not the movie ********, because it’s patently obvious that lush, gorgeous animation plus simplistic story sledgehammered home with embarrassingly on-the-nose dialogue that elucidates impossible-to-refute themes — “be yourself”; “family is important” — that will also dub equally easily into Mandarin and Russian and Spanish equals global box office jackpot. Or that at least that was the totality of the thought process behind the flick.”

    ..not also apply to How to Train Your Dragon (a movie you call glorious) in your mind? Not that it’s likely there’s consistency inside that cave of forgotten dreams. Just to edify, that wasn’t the thought process of the creatives working on the movie; the same process that created HTTYD was responsible for The Croods (proudly). You watched a movie made for families about family dynamics that encourages kids to be optimistic about their personal futures while also respecting the form of love their parents have for them, and then write a review that nitpicks about the geologic period and setting? Just for giggles, the creatures are not remotely reminiscent of dinosaurs. They are more like the giant sloth and mammoths of the cenozoic era. Which would make the evolutionary overlap reasonable, if it were not for the fact that the creatures are obviously fictional missteps in evolution so you’re trying to apply too much of your vaunted intellect. And then there’s your quibble about the desert environment being pressed up against pandora (why?). But aren’t the Himalayas pressed up against rainforests because the height of some of the mountains effects rain patterns? And you had something to say about the Croods not living within a larger group. It’s explained in the first 2 minutes of the movie that they had been.

    Sorry.. I get it, you wrote this review for yourself. Apologies.

    Go see the Croods everbody, it’s a great movie.

  • Captain_Swing666

    Perhaps it’s the source material? HTTYD derived from a series of childrens books carefully written by a childrens author. Where did the story for “The Croods” come from? From the review it sounds like it was stamped out on a production line.

  • Bluejay

    From what I gather, HTTYD the film is extremely different from the book (as in, to the point of having a different plot altogether). So if you enjoyed the story in the film, much credit probably goes to the screenwriters rather than (or at least as much as) the author.

    No comment on The Croods, which I haven’t seen.

  • Derivative and unoriginal. A copy-pasted pastiche of every board trolling cliche in a jumbled mass with no coherent point. At least the punctuation and grammar are legible.

    2/10

  • Could you explain how hating on mothers-in-law is “supportive of the family dynamic”? Thanks.

  • If you really think my review is about “nitpick[ing] about the geologic period and setting,” I’m not sure what you say to you.

    Here’s one thing that’s different about these two films. The nominal hero of *The Croods* is the daughter, who is curious and adventurous… until she is shuffled aside when Guy shows up. And then she’s just the prize for Guy at the end… which is a *very* conservative stamp of approval on the supposed status quo, which is that women belong to men and are merely passed among them. The hero of *Dragon,* on the other hand, is unlike most Hollywood heroes, in that he is deeply smart and geeky and uses something like the scientific method to save his world.

    But perhaps you could explain how women-as-property is a family dynamic worth celebrating… unless, of course, a woman is a mother-in-law, in which case wishing for her death is cool and funny.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I dunno, I might be willing to throw him an extra point or two for the preemptive strike on the rest of the readership.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I suspect the reason is “emotional engagement”. You can get away with a lot of stupid crap in your movie if you can present it in an emotionally engaging way. (I mean, that’s the only reason I can think of why anyone put up with the script to Dances with Smurfs Avatar.) That MaryAnn – who was unperturbed by the idea of dragon-fighting, island-dwelling Vikings with Scottish and American accents – spent this movie wondering about the veracity of the anthropology and geography suggests your movie failed to engage her emotionally. And yes, that’s the movie’s (and, by extension, your) fault, not hers.

    But I’m curious. Do you get yourself bent out of shape by every bad review of every film you work on? There are 17 “rotten” reviews of The Croods on RT right now. Are you commenting on every one of them? That doesn’t strike me as a particularly healthy thing for a creative person to do.

  • CB

    I guess you missed the subtle message in the part where she explained she was doing the scientific nitpicking because “pondering [the world of Croods] was pretty much the only thing that kept me awake while enduring the film”. So let me spell it out for you.

    She was saying the movie is boring.

  • RogerBW

    Curious to see how this does on its opening weekend. I can’t really see any clear water between this and Oogieloves, which quite properly sank without trace…

  • David N-T

    You should apply your own name to yourself. There is nothing wrong with noticing that a film promotes certain values and not liking it on the basis that they are fundamentally in conflict with your own values. For you to take offence at that and suggesting that it’s a worthless way to watch films (I strongly disagree there, but I’ll let that slide) is pretty arrogant. The only way a film reviewer doesn’t do their job is if, upon reading the review, I’m left with an impression of what the film is like that is fundamentally at odds with what the film is really like, for instance, making me believe that a film is a serious drama when it is a light hearted comedy, or messing up key story elements.

  • ythri

    Slamming creationists isn’t liberal politics. It’s just displaying a bias toward reality.

  • Hokay, some animator friends asked me to join them for The Croods tonight, and I decided to go along and give it a chance. I liked it much more than I thought I would, but I can absolutely understand how the problematic elements could be deal-breakers.

    On the plus side, this is a truly character-driven story with a solid sense of plot and pacing, which results in a lot of solid comedy. It’s also gorgeous, as long as you can accept that this is a cartoon fantasy-earth that will probably evolve into a D&D-style middle ages.

    But there is the fundamental problem: Despite the film ostensibly being bookended by her narration of “This is my story”, this really is about Grug’s journey and transition, not hers. Despite four of the seven characters being women, I’m not even sure if this passes the Bechdel test because this really is all about the Dad and his conflict with Guy and the change he represents. Billing it as her story, then making her an otherwise traditional male-dominated film with hoary romantic and mother-in-law cliches is a serious fail, and I can absolutely see that as being a dealbreaker.

  • Sarah

    I’m disappointed that MA found it so disappointing, as I tend to use these reviews a lot to decide what I’ll go see :) But I went to the Croods on a whim, and while the mother in law humour bugged me, and the shuffling aside of the female main character was extremely saddening, I still laughed a lot. If you’re willing to set aside any relation to reality, I still thought it was an enjoyable film. Certainly no How To Train Your Dragon, which WAS glorious! But not as much of a loss as MA found it…

  • Brian Kennedy

    Umm, I don’t mean to defend a film I haven’t even seen and might well be just as vacuous as most Hollywood fluff, but aren’t you taking this movie a little too seriously? I mean, the whole prehistoric setting is surely just intended as a metaphor anyway, isn’t it? The fact that fish talk in “Finding Nemo” is not scientifically accurate either (I assume you know this), but it’s hardly a deal-breaker for the film. Come to think of it, I doubt Neanderthals were capable of speech either, and if they did they probably didn’t speak US English (I might be mistaken on that one though). If we take it as given that the film is not attempting to be a historical documentary, I’d say a discussion of the simplistic and/or ultra-conventional nature of the film’s theme or message might make for more relevant criticism.

  • Pedro

    Ah, I had a feeling you wouldn’t like this one. The setup was well presented and the visual design splendid, and the characters were stereotyped, but believable (but no, I didn’t like the mother-in-law jokes either. Or the way the film is blatantly set up like the inevitable tie-in videogame: cutscene, action level, cutscene, action level). I, too, thought the Croods’ Earth must have been some parallel planet where rocks and rainforest co-exist. However, what you completely missed is that Eep explains IN THE FIRST SCENE OF THE MOVIE what happened to their neighbours (eaten, squashed, died of cold, etc). Did you come in late and miss that bit? It’s the only way to explain your confusion…

    On an unrelated note, of the two trailers that played before the movie, I liked Epic better when it was called Ferngully TWENTY YEARS ago (man, I’m old!) and I liked Turbo better when it was made by Pixar, called Ratatouille, and not teaching children that illegal drag racing is cool. I think I’ll give both a pass. This one, though? Solid way to spend two hours on a Sunday afternoon in a small town. 7.25/10.

  • Pedro

    It was apparently written by John Cleese (THE John Cleese???)

  • Pedro

    I meant to say “you wouldn’t like this one. I did.”

  • zids

    MaryAnn, if you watch the beginning of the film, it is mentioned that there ARE OTHER FAMILIES, but they perished. Your entire review (save for the second paragraph) seem to be based on an assumption that’s clearly wrong to begin with.

    I usually enjoy your reviews because of, not despite, you being so single-mindedly opinionated, but this one just missed the mark.

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