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Monday, March 18, 2013

'The Croods:' Relatively Evolved



The catch-phrase "The First Modern Family" that the animated division of Dreamworks has attached to "The Croods," which is coming to a theater near you on Friday March 23, 2013, also applies to that studio's apparently new approach to its blockbuster kidvid offerings. Although "The Croods" is not your older sibling's Dreamworks, it is an entertaining and somewhat substantial way to spend 90 minutes.

Dreamwork's  prior offerings that notably included the "Shrek," "Ice Age," and "Madagascar" series created expectations that "The Croods" would consist largely of family-hour sitcom stars and other idols of adolescent boys providing the voices of outrageously broad characters who farted and belched their way through a madcap adventure to the accompaniment of a soundtrack of Top 40 hits of the '60s and '70s. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Puss in Boots rocks!

On a related note, watching "The Croods" makes you forget about the voice actors. One feels as if there are actual characters on the scene. This is in contrast to the still highly entertaining "Shrek" films in which one does not forget that Mike Myers is providing the lead character's voice or that Eddie Murphy is the street-wise donkey.

"The Croods" could have been titled "The World's Oldest Cave-Dwelling Family Tells All." It depicts the tale of one of the last surviving pre-historic families who head out to literally, and spectacularly created, greener pastures when the world starts to literally crumbled around their very arid and desolate home.

The rather cro-magnon appearing heart-felt drama and action-adventure star Nicolas Cage provides the voice of family patriarch Grug. Grug can be considered a very timid Fred Flintsone (another name for you millenials to Google) who must evolve his thinking when his teen daughter Eep and the rest of his pre-nuclear family become enamored with the modern-thinking and dreamy teen stud Guy who wins them over with his charm and survival skills. 

Equally dreamy and charming Ryan Reynolds, who has not starred in a sitcom since "Two Guys and A Girl" was part of ABC's TGIF line-up in the '90s,  provides the voice of Guy.

In some ways, Grug and Guy could be considered the big bang Crosby and Hope (or perhaps Flintstone and Rubble) in that "The Croods" is large an "on the road" film in which they remain the main focus throughout most of the movie. (You millenials will need to Google that one as well.) 

The fact that current sitcom star, and legendary TV goddess, Cloris Leachman does not get much airtime in her surprisingly subdued role as family grandmother Gran helps illustrate that we are not in Shrek's zany fairy tale land anymore. It does not seem that Gran has any memorable lines or scenes.

Indie and cult comedy star Catherine Keener provides the voice for  Grug's typical cavewife Ugga, who remained in the background almost as much as Gran. "The Office's" Clark Duke plays dim-witted son Thunk, who has some slapstick moments but also lacked much of a significant role. 

Despite the amusing story and above-average voice talent, the scenery is the scene-stealer in this film. Watching the Croods and Guy cross the boundary between their desolate native land and the very tropical surroundings that are the gateway to their new life is almost as magical as seeing "The Wizard of Oz's" Dorothy go to sleep in dreary monochrome Kansas and wake up in the blindingly bright land of Oz.

It is noteworthy as well that :the Croods" was enchanting enough to keep the theater full of moppets in their seats and quiet throughout the entire film. I am unsure if the "Entouragesque" voice casts of the "Shrek," "Ice Age," and "Madagascar" films achieve the same feat. 

Anyone who would like to discuss this review is welcome to email me.