Friday, 29 March 2013

[Review] The Croods - Stone-aged.

The Croods (2013)

Directors - Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Country - USA
Starring - Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone
Running Time - 98 minutes
Synopsis - After their cave is destroyed, a caveman family must trek through an unfamiliar fantastical world with the help of an inventive boy.

As film productions moves rapidly into the digital space, a migration sealed with Hollywood's approval in the Academy's awarding of Ang Lee's Life of Pi the 'Best Cinematography' award in this year’s Oscars, it marks the latest trek into uncharted space for many of 'traditional' filmmakers. Like sound, 16mm and CGI before it, this new digitally rendered camera opens up so many possibilities that were previously impossible and many directors tend to reach too high. Ang Lee's Life of Pi is one such example, who's tacky over-composed shots and weightless movements do very little to communicate the dangers and wonders of the subject matter, another such example would be Peter Jackson's The Hobbit which also lacked the tangibility that made The Lord of the Rings as success.

Such an issue is not present within the animated features of Pixar and the more recent Dreamworks pictures, most notably their 2010 film How to Train Your Dragon which offered up a jaw-dropping sense of aerial traversal and fight scenes that played with the concept of physical weight in a way most directors can only hope to achieve without losing its audience. Indeed The Croods too has a keen understanding of perpetual motion. In an opening set piece as the Crood pact attempt to make off with a giant egg for breakfast, the resulting chase is delightful exercise in cinematic perpetual motion and kinetic characterization.

Bearing that in mind, one can't help but see a Meta edge to Dreamwork's latest work The Croods, a story about a family of cave people forced to adapt in a new, unfamiliar environment with the help of a young but well adapted 'modern' boy.

Live by the rules of the ancestors. That is the only way to survive in the world of Eep, a teenaged cave-girl belonging to the Crood breed, the last of the cave-men. They are led by their father Grug, a man who teaches them always to be afraid as fear breeds survival. But one day Eep sneaks out and discovers Guy, a teenage wonderer, a modern man, filled with ideas on how to live in the wild, against the impending cataclysm of the forming continents.

The film is thinly plotted, hitting all the predictable notes in the correct tone as if the Croods and Guy's journey to 'tomorrow' are merely new lyrics to accompany a well-trodden piece of sheet music, complete with montage rifts and collective harmonies. Just as animations are getting bolder in their film making, they seem to becoming softer in their spirit. Just as Pixar frequently pushes themes of mortality and discontent, before chickening out, The Croods does nothing to communicate its sense of time and place in the same way Ice Age did 10 years ago, or The Land before Time in my age.

 However with the character's established roles and the film's narrative path so firmly trodden in front of it, the directors are now free to deliver some gorgeous and creative world design. Borrowing from all walks of life; the sea, the desert and the jungle the world that the Croods inhabit is one that is both familiar yet devilishly creative at times. You'll gaze at the strange hybrid of what appears to be a pig and blue whale, but will laugh in shock as it’s devoured by a flock of piranha parrots.

But there are earthly wonders here too, the magic of fire or ethereal power of the stars are captured with a childlike bewilderment here that even the likes of Terrence Malick could hope for. That is, until the Croods try to capture and eat the fire leading to the world’s largest popcorn bucket. The film strikes a nice balance between its visual wonderment and comical characterization to ensure there's never too much of one and not enough of the other.

A fact only helped by the terrific voice work from its cast. Emma Stone as Eep applies the tonality of a modern teenage girl onto the stone-age protagonist suggesting how little our family dynamic has changed really. Roamer turned unwilling boyfriend Guy (Ryan Reynolds) on the other hand is a modern man. His concerns lie not just in survival but in his metrosexuality, one must out run the apocalypse but they must also do it with a tipped fringe and low-cut jeans. This is to the horror of father Grug, played by what can only be described as an expressive Nicholas Cage. His generation is based on strength not style and intelligence, but he must now realize his world is disappearing, but his place is not gone yet. In one scene he tries to steal a little of Guy's popularity with a few ideas of his own. His invention of sunglasses and wheel among other modern utilities things are met with raised eyebrows and slapstick humor; how necessary to our survival are these items? Are we to far gone as a race to revert to the caveman?

The supporting cast fill out the quota of comic relief, understated mother support and animal sidekick, but they do their jobs admirably ensuring that there is enough laughs for both parent and child. A personal favourite is the running gag between Grug and his ancient mother-in-law whom he constantly wishes for her timely demise only to be disappointed by her triumphant 'Still alive!' The world and the people may change, but the family dynamic is here to stay.

The Croods isn't going to lead us to the 'tomorrow.' It isn't the ideas man but neither is it the caveman. Instead, it finds a cute middle ground; opting to follow a path well-trodden in order to stop and show us some beautiful sights, have a few laughs upon the way and remind of the places cinema can take us, digitally rendered or otherwise.


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