You may remember that The Legionnaire already did this year’s The Croods: A New Age, the sequel to 2013’s The Croods. Our apologies for doing reviews out of sequence, but hey, no one asked us to take a look at the original first. So I blame all of you. I am kidding. Anyway, Cameron did the sequel, which meant that I got to do its predecessor. For the sake of not repeating myself, if you want to know how I feel about animated films please go to The Legionnaire‘s home page, click on the “Animated” section, and take your pick of the ones I reviewed. My aversion to them is why Cameron typically takes them on because he has different sensibilities with them. There are a couple that I do like: Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse (2019), Ratatouille (2007), and The Sword and the Stone (1963). Maybe there are others, but I cannot recall them at the moment. The Croods is not among them.
How do you make pre-history fun for kids? You make The Croods. Okay, it is not that easy. You make your main characters, the title family, “cavemen.” The scholar in me cringes at that sobriquet, particularly when they are drawn as looking more like Neanderthals. Whatever. I am guessing that those responsible for this movie did not care about proper nomenclature, and what is worse, probably also thought that neither would their targeted audience. Instead, as so many makers of children’s movies do, they take the most easily identifiable stereotypes about anything and slap them on moving pictures. So, the family lives in a cave and in fear of pretty much everything outside of it. This message of terror is reinforced constantly by the family’s patriarch Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage), and it has kept them alive when all of the others like them died. The one among them that does not always follow this guidance is Eep (voiced by Emma Stone), daughter and eldest child. She sneaks out of their subterranean abode when a mysterious light awakens her one night. As it turns out, this is the aptly named Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), and the light comes from a torch he is wielding. Eventually, the whole family meets Guy, and they are all intrigued by this seemingly new invention. However, this new person comes with a dire warning: the world is coming to an end. According to Guy, the only chance they have for survival is to travel to a land he refers to as Tomorrow. Others like him have gone there before, supposedly riding the sun to a sort of promised land. He also convinces the Croods to come as well, partly motivated by the growing attraction between him and Eep. For most of the journey, though, Guy is kept captive in a log by Grug, who is suspicious of anything or anyone new, particularly one that has taken a liking to his daughter. He remains stuck in his ways, but Guy wins over the rest of the family. It is not until Guy and Grug end up stuck in tar do they begin to work together. Guy uses his ingenuity to extricate them from this sticky mess, but only in time for them to be cut off from their ultimate destination. Grug then uses his apparent superhuman (or supercaveman, I guess) strength to throw his family across the widening volcanic chasm. Not all is lost for him, though, as the ability to come up with new ideas has rubbed off on him. He conceives of a complicated way of flying to his family using the ribcage of some mythical beast, fire, and carnivorous birds. They are all reunited and living happily ever after. I can say that because I have seen the sequel.
To echo other reviews I have done of animated kids movies, I understand that The Croods is not aimed at me. But is there truly no way of presenting these ideas without making a mockery of actual scientific, archaeological, and historical knowledge? This goes beyond my annoyance with referring to the Croods as “cavemen.” Did pre-historic peoples live in caves? Yes. For a long time we referred to such people quite logically as “cavemen.” Yet, more recent research suggests that the supposed set of humans we refer to by this unfortunate name, the Neanderthals, were not the primitive people stereotypes make them out to be. They knew about fire, for example. Furthermore, the Homo sapiens, you and me in other words, that eventually supplanted Neanderthal man also dwelled in caves. The other part of this film that I took umbrage with is how it depicts animals. This is a truly baffling aspect. Why not make cartoon versions of real prehistoric beasts and birds? What they gave us are strange combinations of different animals, many of them being of species from opposite branches of the animal tree. There are birds with turtle shells (not sure how that works with flight), giant chicken-like creatures with rams’ horns, and predatory cats the size of elephants with corresponding tusks, to name a few. Why? Is God’s creation not enough? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Alright, I will give The Croods some credit. There is a somewhat interesting interplay of the themes between light and dark, something you can find throughout the Bible. Jesus is the light of the world, and many of the parables He tells speak to this motif. Another key teaching of Our Savior is how we need not fear. For the Croods, their entire existence is built on fear. They see everything outside of their cave as trying to kill them, especially at night. There is the darkness again, too. I will stop well short of calling Guy a Jesus figure (which I think would be borderline blasphemy), but he is the one who begins to expel one of the things of which the Croods are scared. We do not give enough credit to God for the incredible blessing that is our brains. It allows us to be able to wield the fire that brings light to darkness, and to come up with a number of devices that effect our survival. Of course, the film does not make such a connection to themes that Christians hold dear, nor would they probably care to do so. But the comparisons are there to be made.
Hence, while I do appreciate the interplay of light and dark and the blessings of human ingenuity in The Croods, I did not care for it as a whole. I feel somewhat bad about this because my nieces love The Croods, and they watch the animated series on Netflix. It is all the same fanciful crap, but that is to an adult man like myself. My only wish is that they would make something like this with a little more realism.