The Croods is my latest foray into digital downloads, a form of movie watching that in my experience has provided better picture quality and sound than many of my Netflix viewings. This recent film from Dreamworks Animation and 20th Century Fox was a big hit last spring. Some people were surprised that it did so well, probably because Nicolas Cage and Ryan Reynolds provided two of the voices. However, the film was co-directed by Chris Sanders, co-director of the last great Disney 2D feature, Lilo & Stitch, and Dreamworks’ wonderful How to Train Your Dragon, so doubters should have waited for the final film before knocking it down. Truth told, Cage and Reynolds show more depth here than many of their recent live action films, while the rest of the small cast, which includes Emma Stone, Catherine Keener and Clark Duke, also shine.
The story is pretty straight-forward: The Croods are a prehistoric family of cave dwellers who live a secluded life in a rocky valley. The father, Groo (Cage), is overprotective and has his wife and kids living in fear of everything. The dark, what lies beyond the mountains, animals, and change in general. His wife, Ugga (Keener), supports him, and his dimwitted son, Thunk (Duke), worships him. There is a cute, primal little daughter, Sandy (played by Randy Thorn, one of the film’s sound designers), and also Ugga’s ancient, curmudgeonly mother, Gran (film and TV legend, Cloris Leachman). While the rest of the Croods listen to Groo and follow his lead, his teenage daughter, Eep (Stone), rebels against his authority and yearns to venture out into the world.
One night as the family sleeps, Eep discovers another human, Guy (Reynolds), an orphan with a furry companion, Belt (voiced by director Sanders). Guy has a gift for creating fire and is more evolved than Eep and the rest of the Croods, both mentally and physically. This is one of the many clever ideas the film does: Guy walks upright and uses his digits like a modern man, while the Croods are still hunched over and their hands have an ape-like quality to them. Eep is immediately attracted to Guy, but resists following him toward a far off mountain, even though he proclaims that the end of the world is coming. Eep just can’t leave her family, especially her father, whom she loves so much.
It’s only a matter of time before the Croods are driven from their home and must venture off into the unknown. They meet up with Guy, first taking him hostage so he can provide fire, then accepting him into their family as a the one to lead them to higher ground and safety from the impending end of days (or volcano erupting, whichever you prefer to call it).
The Croods is a road movie, with plenty of laughs and emotional moments along the way. Instead of trying to replicate the sort of animals we expect to see in a prehistoric film, Sanders and his co-director, Kirk DiMicco (who also co-wrote the script with Sanders and Monty Python’s John Cleese) have created new, remarkable animals to inhabit this world. The favorite of my son, Jacob, and I were the birds with turtle shells. We called them “turds,” which elicited many laughs while we watched the film.
I mention my son because this is a great family movie. Sure, the plot is a little familiar, but that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t funny and that the message of family and overcoming your fears doesn’t resonate. Jacob and I both laughed hard, especially at the physical humor. Thunk was our favorite character, primarily because Duke really brought him to life. This actor continues to impress me with everything he does, and I think he made a new fan in my son (although, Jacob won’t be watching Hot Tub Time Machine any time soon). As I said earlier, Cage gives a nice performance, too, playing the humor, anger and melancholy just right. Stone does a nice job, too, bringing the right spunk and wide-eyed innocence required for the role.
You might think that crowding around a computer screen would be a bad way to watch a movie. Yet, Jacob and I sat comfortably on our couch in our own intimate world, having a great old time. And with detachable speakers we plugged into the laptop, the sound was as good as our television.
The Croods will be released on DVD and Blu-ray October 1st. However, if you’re in the hunt for a family film to watch this weekend, the movie is already available as a digital download. As with any digital media these days, the benefits of owning the film as an mp4 file are starting to outweigh owning an actual physical copy. The picture quality is the same, the sound is the same, and it doesn’t take up any space on the shelf. Plus, those of you with smart enough televisions may be able to stream your downloads on a bigger screen than a laptop. For more information, go to http://www.