Directed by Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Screenplay by Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman
How long is Oz the Great and Powerful? 98 minutes.
What is Oz the Great and Powerful rated? PG for some scary action.
More Family Than Farts
The genre of CGI animated films is admittedly not one of my favorites. Obviously, there are some exceptions, most notably Pixar and Rango, but the majority of them rarely overcome their narrative restraints. Either they’re an endless barrage of hyperkinetic jokes or it’s about Protagonist being an X but wanting to be Z. Even last year’s acclaimed Wreck-It Ralph became detrimentally conventional after its mostly successful first act of Toy Story: Videogame Edition. The animation is generally fine, but hardly ever rises to the level of impressive or unique. And while voice acting is certainly being taken with more seriousness these days, the films themselves rarely have that spark that turns them from a cartoon into an animated feature.
The latest entry in this field is The Croods from DreamWorks Animation. Although it ranks in the second tier of CGI animated features, it skews closer to better than worse. Less humorous than one would expect, it winds up being more about the characters than about their crazy misadventures. To that end, it seems closer in spirit to The Incredibles and DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon than to earlier DreamWorks family movies such as Kung Fu Panda and the Madagascar franchise.
Set in prehistoric times, The Croods features the Croods, a family of cavemen consisting of Grug (a surprisingly toned down Nicolas Cage); quasi-rebellious daughter Eep (Emma Stone); wife Ugga (Catherine Keener); son Thunk (Clark Duke, reminding me of Gene in Bob’s Burgers); mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman); and the youngest, animalistic daughter Sandy. An overprotective father, Grug prefers to keep his clan holed up inside a cave until they need food while Eep wants to explore the world outside, to her father’s dismay. After sneaking out one night, she encounters fire-maker/idea man Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and his pet Belt. The shifting of Pangaea (presumably) causes the ground to quake beneath their feet, and the Croods, with Guy in tow, are forced to make their way to a new residence.
One of the movie’s biggest benefits is that the Croods are not dysfunctional. While Grug is overprotective, it’s for legitimate reasons – the world outside is scary and full of actual monsters that could easily kill and eat everyone within seconds. Clearly caring for his family, he’s not a gruff guy with a soft interior, he’s all nice. Moreover, there is an element of gender equality to their society. When the family forages for food, everyone’s involved — from the youngest daughter to the ancient grandmother. Unfortunately, aside from Grug and Eep, very few of the other family members get enough attention. More is made of Guy and his relationship as the brains to Grug’s brawn, which leads Grug to doubt his ability to care for his family, than of Eep and Thunk or even Grug and Ugga.
This lack of varied character relationships becomes more problematic because The Croods is a very simple story without any side characters. The Croods need to get from their old home to their new home. They cross different terrains, but the danger doesn’t increase in intensity as they move from place A to place B, which gives the film a flat, almost uneventful, quality. Writers/directors Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco also overplay the potential demise of one of the family members so much that his or her fate is never in question and leads to a needlessly extended, forced “sad” scene. Nevertheless, I do have to give them a lot of credit for not turning The Croods into yet another message movie about global warming/climate change.
The Croods, the only surviving family in their “neighborhood,” don’t meet any other people on the road, which provides the film with a needed sense of isolation and an understanding of why the family unit is so important. They do run into a bunch of cutesy animals, as is to be expected. While most of these creatures end up somewhat anthropomorphized, only Belt comes across as terrible because of it. Everyone else, humans and animals included, seem grounded while Belt adopts the goofy, human-ish qualities of the Despicable Me minions. With his repetitive “dun-dun-dun” to announce danger, he sticks out in a negative way, and I wondered if they purposely toddler-proofed him after-the-fact just so The Croods could have an easy character who could provide little children with laughs.
Animation-wise, The Croods is decent but not exceptional or memorable. Care was definitely taken to make the world look more realistic than many other animated films, and some shots are certainly well done. Disappointingly, being introduced to the Pandora-ian bright colors and lush greens of the world outside of the dry, desert-like landscape the Croods previously called home, lacks the whole-new-world effect it should have. However, this segment contains some particularly clever bits of animal camouflage that the rest of the movie cannot live up to, nor does it attempt to.
As the first big animated movie of the year, The Croods ends up being pleasant enough. Not a pleasant surprise or completely enjoyable, but inoffensive and family-friendly with a few okay bits spread throughout. Although it doesn’t take complete advantage of its slowness and lack of a driving force, it thankfully does not devolve into screaming, gas, and pop culture references.
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