Croods (2D), The (US - BD RA)
Gabe has a theory that derivative cartoons killed off the Neanderthals...
When their cave is destroyed, the Crood family must embark on a comedy adventure into strange and spectacular territory in search of a new home. As if patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage) didn't already have enough to handle, it goes from bad to worse when they encounter an imaginative nomad named Guy (Ryan Reynolds). With Guy's help the Croods conquer their fear of the outside world and discover that they have exactly what it takes to survive…each other. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)
DreamWorks Animation continues to defy expectations. After shocking critics with genuinely great films that could compete on-level with Pixar, like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda, the studio was able to pump out a couple of worthy, non-formula sequels, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots (technically a prequel, I’m told). Madagascar sequels aside ( Madagascar 3 was actually aggressively bad), even the small drop in quality that was Rise of the Guardians seemed to prove that DreamWorks was truly on the mend. So my expectations changed. I expected the trend would continue. Following a break-up with Paramount, the studio has moved on to a relationship with Fox (who also distributes rival studio Blue Sky’s releases). Another option was to follow the rest of DreamWorks over to Disney, but would’ve been…awkward, given Disney’s already respectable animation output and their affiliation with Pixar. The Croods is the first film to be distributed by Fox. It’s also the first bad non-sequel DreamWorks has made since 2007, when Bee Movie taught children the value of the status quo and why it needs to be maintained.
The Croods is similar to Blue Sky’s summer of 2013 release, Epic, in that both films are fine achievements on a visual level (both were probably very impressive 3D presentations), but weak in terms of familiar storylines, bland characters, and obnoxious comedy. But Epic’s shortcomings were mostly outweighed by its spectacular action set-pieces, making for a mediocre experience at worst. The Croods isn’t nearly as innocuous – it’s much more actively insufferable and much closer to an actively bad movie. To understand the dopiness of the comedy one only need to look to the film’s trailer, which doesn’t give away every single plot point, but does fully encapsulate everything wrong with writer/directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders’ sense of humour. The only things you need to know is that there are not one, not two, but three dead mother-in-law jokes in the trailer and that the title is a bad play on the word ‘crude.’ There isn’t much beyond age-old jokes about in-laws (there’s also a family trip-related ‘I’ll turn this car around’ joke), elaborate slapstick (some of which is pretty amusing), and a staggering number of jokes about the Croods being stupid and confused by the world outside of their cave. Get it? Because they’re an obsolete, evolutionary dead end. They’ll be extinct in less than a generation. Hilarious.
This brings me to the realization that a surprising number of animated features aimed at children are built around the hijinks of a species on the verge of extinction. These likely have their roots in the ‘Rite of Spring’ section of Fantasia, but seem to have begun in earnest with The Land Before Time, followed by Disney’s Dinosaur and four of Blue Sky’s Ice Age films. Most of these films involve characters trekking from certain doom to a magical land where they can live (and apparently die) in tranquility. The fact that The Croods fits this mould (practically a subgenre) is further proof of its creative bankruptcy, which is actually more disturbing than its patchy sense of humour. It doesn’t only lazily recycle the intrinsic storyline from other prehistoric apocalypse movies, it peppers the plot with major themes stolen from Finding Nemo, minus any semblance of subtlety. Instead of allowing the audience to see themselves in the story’s over-protective father, we’re pounded over the head with the motif in scene after scene, until Grug is eventually built into the film’s only real antagonist, outside of animals that are either defending their nests or . The sentimental streak is unearned thanks to sloppy character building and storytelling shortcuts that do nothing but recall other, better movies. I do have to admit that the last act, where Grug is separated from his family, plucks many of the right heartstrings, but the goodwill is thrown away the moment the writers placate their audience and pair every character with an adorable pet for the inevitable sequel.
If we ignore their lack of comedy taste and originality, however, DeMicco and Sanders do know what they’re doing with regards to the film’s sometimes spectacular visuals. In fact, the screenplay is built around dragging the characters from one gorgeous landscape to another, not actual story beats. Like James Cameron’s Avatar, the eye candy is sometimes sweet enough to ignore The Croods’ more obvious shortcomings. DeMicco’s only other directing credit was a cheapo independent flick called Space Chimps (I didn’t see it, it looked terrible), but Sanders made his directing debut on How to Train Your Dragon with Dean DeBlois, so, clearly, he had some experience with majestic imagery. Multi-Academy Award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins was also brought on as a ‘visual consultant’ – a new practice for DreamWorks that really seems to be paying off (other visual consultants have included Guillermo del Toro and Guillermo Navarro). The film’s design aesthetic is a pleasant blend of realism and super-deformed cartoonishness. The composite creatures are adorable and the Avatar-inspired natural environments are beautiful. I am a bit confused, however, by the directors’ insistence on the faux-hand-held look during the action scenes, especially since the film is mostly designed to look good in 3D, where constant motion like this is nauseating.
Just like every CG animated movie released by a major studio over the last three or four years, The Croods was designed and animated with digital 3D in mind. I am reviewing the 2D release, which is presented in 2.40:1, 1080p video. Details are impossibly sharp in the way only animated features can be, including close-up details, like hair, fur, and skin textures, and deep-set natural patterns. The most incredible images are those that revel in 3D-friendly, sweeping landscapes and the only times that details are significantly muted are during the occasional night/in-cave scenes. The sharp details are matched with crisply separated and eclectic hues. The film starts in a dry wasteland that is almost monochromatically yellow/brown during and the day coolly grey/blue at night. This environment is dynamically contrasted with the more imaginative and lush world the Croods wander into during the second act. The complex and diverse palette of flora and fauna that fleck these vibrant landscapes pop perfectly against each other without any notable edge haloes or cross-colouration effects. The lack of compression is really impressive, especially moments involving swarms of little piranha-birds. These little red dots are tightly knit without the blocking effects seen on the slightly more compressed footage used in the disc’s special features. I did notice some minor banding on the more stylized smoke/dust effects, but this may have been intentional.
This disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 also meets the incredibly high expectations set by similar releases. The film opens with a football-inspired (American football, I mean) dash for food, complete with marching band music and other soundtrack cues taken from rigors of ‘game day.’ The scene sets the stage for an immersive and dynamic environment that saves most of its big money moments for its chase/action sequences. The majority of the film is pretty subtle and dialogue-based with the stereo and surround channels softly leaking ambience. The sound design is rarely lacking for directional enhancements, but these are often understated, at least until something attacks the Croods (or vice versa) and the speakers spring to life with activity. The most aggressive sounds are reserved for the tectonic plate-shifting, which crumbles boulders to sand throughout the surround speakers and rumbles the LFE. The big action climax is every bit as loud and explosive as any grown-up action movie. Alan Silvestri’s musical score features both brassy, exciting themes that sometimes stand in for actiony sound effects and downplayed dramatic motifs that sit quietly beneath the sappy dialogue.
The rather brief extras begin with The Croodaceous Creatures of Croods (6:10, HD), a kid-friendly, multi-chapter look at the film’s composite-creatures, hosted by Eep and Thunk in character. These are mostly made up of footage from the film, but does include some charming 2D animated additions. Up next is Belt’s Cave Journal (6:20, HD), a semi-animated look at Belt and Guy’s pre-movie adventures. Things are wrapped up with Crood’s Cuts (8:20, HD), a collection of deleted/extended scenes with directors’ introduction (storyreels with temporary sound), four drawing instructions with animator Sean Sexton (35:20, HD), trailers, and a juke-box of DreamWorks Animation songs.
The Croods is certainly a pretty movie, but that’s just about all it has going for it. It’s painfully unfunny, it talks down to its child audience, and it ‘borrows’ just about every one of its plot points and themes from other movies. I don’t think anyone expected much out of the Clan of the Cave Bear meets The Land Before Time concept, though, and I suppose that the dreamy and adorable images will be enough for some people to overlook the more glaring absence of originality and unfunny jokes. This 2D Blu-ray looks and sounds just as perfect as you’d expect from a film created entirely in computers, but some fans will be disappointed by the lack of substantial extras.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 1st October 1995
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, DVS 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: The Croodaceous Creatures of Croods, Belt's Cave Journal, Croods Cuts: Lost Scenes, Be An Artist: Draw Creatures from The Croods, Trailers, DreamWorks Juke-Box, DVD Copy, UV Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Comedy
Length: 98 minutes
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