March 22, 2013



THE CROODS:  Watch It At Home – Prehistoric Sitcom’s Bland Storyline Doesn’t Evolve

Hollywood already has a thriving CG-animated prehistoric franchise in the Ice Age series, but DreamWorks Animation is in serious need of a hit, so now there’s the new THE CROODS.  It’s far too familiar, not just in the setting and plot territory it explores but in its emphasis on sometimes gorgeous visuals over a very rudimentary story.

This time, the main characters are a Neanderthalw family rather than talking versions of the beasts who surround them.  That’s already considerably less appealing than the friendly mammoth, saber-tooth tiger and sloth that Ice Age gives us, and it’s made worse by a plotline that’s like a hugely expanded version of a Tim Allen sitcom that’s been put in a time machine (as though Tim Allen’s sitcoms weren’t prehistoric enough).  So we have conservative, clueless but good-hearted dad Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage), who’s stubbornly resistant to all change, and his family consisting of long-suffering mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), battle-axe mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman), dim-witted son Thunk (Clark Duke), and most importantly, rebellious teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone).  Grug never lets the family leave the cave where they huddle in fear except to briefly forage for food, but Eep dreams of a bigger world out there. Before long, she’s met Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a relative intellectual (he knows about fire and shoes), who dad despises on sight.  But guess what, circumstances force them to bond together on an adventure, and before the story ends, Grug has learned a valuable lesson about flexibility and courage, and the family is that much closer together.

This would be unbearable stuff as a modern-day TV show, but at least writer-directors Kirk De Micco and Crhsi Sanders supply plenty of animated eye candy, as practically florescent beasts pursue the family across giant vistas and the earth breaks into new continents all around them.  Here, too, though, there’s ultimately little that we haven’t seen before (Continental Drift was the subtitle of the last Ice Age movie), and one has the feeling that the action is non-stop because the movie is terrified of pausing and letting us realize how thin and predictable the story and characters are.  When in doubt, the script loads up on anachronistic sight gags referring to things like photography and football that are thousands of years away, without coming up with any original spin that would make disrupting the movie’s setting worthwhile.

Cage and Stone give very strong vocal performances, even though Cage has the additional handicap that while Grug is intended to be the prehistoric equivalent of an uneducated blue-collar dad, he’s written to sound almost as learned as Guy.  Stone brings vivacity and charm to Eep, but “spunky” defines all there is to the character.

The Croods may well turn out to be a smart commercial move by DreamWorks (the last Ice Age movie made  $877M worldwide, an incredible 82% of it outside the US), but it’s one of the least exciting, least original big-studio animations of recent years.  And coming up next for DreamWorks is Turbo, which looks to be nothing but a reprise of Cars with a soupcon of Ratatouille (instead of a rat who wants to cook, it’s a snail–voiced once again by Ryan Reynolds–who wants to race cars).  Ladies and gentleman, DreamWorks Animation–the carrion birds of big-budget animation.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."