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The Croods

The Croods

It's a Cowardly, Smelly Old World

dir: Kirk DeMicco & Chris Sanders

It's about time Nicolas Cage brought his particular brand of crazy to the 3D animated realm. He's so perfectly suited to playing a Neanderthal that I'm surprised it's never happened before.

He's not the main character here, I think, in The Croods, but it's pretty much him blathering on all the time. It's very possible the producers of this film shut Nicolas Cage in a room with a mound of coke and just recorded everything he said over a two day period. And they built a film around that. For the kids, of course.

The main character, I guess, is Eep, voiced by Emma Stone. She is the Neanderthal daughter of Cage's character, artfully named Grug. They have a whole family of Neanderthals around them, to provide the laughs and the jolly japery. And, even if you know nothing about this movie, you could probably guess that there is a grandma character, possibly voiced either by Betty White or Cloris Leachman. Cloris must have won the toss.

And there's a feral baby character, but it's not like it matters. The once-great distinction between Pixar, before their selling-out to Disney, and the rest of the animation studios was that Pixar seemed like it was telling stories because it wanted to tell particular stories, not because of the marketing opportunities or covering all the possible audience demographics.

This seems like it was put together by a boardroom of ad execs, each more cynical than the last, as they imagine the McDonald's Happy Meal opportunities and crow about the positive feedback from test screenings where clods see a few minutes at a time and comment on how awesome it was in miniature form.

What was developed and delivered is something that looks like a whole bunch of other films, is relentlessly familiar and hyperactive, overwhelmingly generic, and, above all, utterly American. It's not even American in the best sense of the word, like the novels of Cormac McCarthy, the music of The Pixies or the very existence of professional wrestling.

It's American in the sense that it's like being trapped in a massive fume filled traffic jam, or queuing to go on an amusement park ride for hours in order to enjoy it for minutes, or like feeling bloated from too much fast food, or in the myriad ways that it just won't let you be. It relentlessly hammers away at your senses and dares you to disagree with it, because doing so would somehow be an admission of weakness. It provides action then quiet then action then quiet then action then quiet with the ruthless efficiency of a metronome, mechanically tick-tocking away the remaining seconds of your life.

If this story has a hero, it's Eep, for aspiring, for wishing, for striving for more than what she has. If this story has a villain, it's either her father Grug for protecting his family or it's just the concept of wilful ignorance.

It's not really clear when in this planet's history this might be occurring, since none of this really looks like it's happening on our planet. I don't remember when there were four-winged birds with turtle shells or flying piranha birds, or land whales, or giant green sabre-toothed tigers. This could be the time when the world looked like more of a Dr Seuss book, which is kind of like imaginative palaeontology mixed with LSD.

It doesn't matter. We're just meant to assume that it's that magical time so long ago, prehistory, where anything could have been happening. As we all know from what Jesus’ minions told us in the Bible, the Earth is only five thousand years old, so this must be at that time right at the start just after Adam and Eve were flung out of the garden by a righteous God. Maybe 'Eep' is code for 'Eve', who knows, it hardly matters.

Grug is an overbearing patriarch who, nonetheless, gets the job done right, which is kinda like what they used to say about Mussolini getting the trains to run on time. He instils in his family the absolute rule that they must fear everything unknown because it will kill them, and to never venture further from the cave than they absolutely have to. In fact, cowering in the cave like hairy cockroaches is his preferred hobby. Also, he loves reinforcing his edicts, illustrated with Lascaux-like cave wall paintings, by telling stories that always end with the curious girl dying horribly because she didn't listen to her father.

These are simple people. We're not supposed to hold it against them, as if they're Amish people, or lottery-ticket buyers. They're not even human, technically, since they look either like Cro-Mags or Neanderthals, so they might not have the mental capacity to do anything other fearing the sky and loving rocks.

Along comes a man. An actual man, as in, someone who's probably of the species Homo sapiens. He's called Guy, surprisingly enough, which leads to hearty jokefest jokes about Guy being a guy called Guy. He has intelligence, allegedly, or at least in comparison to Eep and her family. Grug is the epitome of brawny violence, of the darkness of ignorance, and Guy is the veritable Light of Reason. He bears fire itself, having mastered its creation and its usage, so he's way ahead of these cave-ensconced bumpkins. At least, that's what we're meant to see them all as. Everyone around them, though, is dead. Can we assume, should we assume, that they are the last of their smelly, stupid kind?

The world around these fur-clad cave-hillbillies is falling apart. Of course they don't have the experience to know what's going on, or what to do about it, but Guy, the intelligent one, knows what to do.

How does he know? Does he have some kind of GPS with him, or satellite imagery at his disposal, an atlas, an idea of what's going on? No. This embodiment of intelligence versus crude ignorance had a dream. A Dream! Like Martin Luther King before him, Guy has a Dream that they can walk into the land of Tomorrow, in the West, between two mountains, where they'll all be safe.

No, no, Grug won't have this. He can't tolerate change, he can't countenance that the world is changing and that his survival techniques won't save the family. His solution? Stay in the cave. What about when the cave is destroyed? Find another cave. What if that cave is destroyed as well? No, caves. Plato himself would have shaken his head in disappointment.

Perhaps Grug realised that using Guy as a stand-in for the pursuit of knowledge, for intelligent decision-making, is idiotic if his whole basis for his plan is dreamy logic with a thick creamy sauce of magical thinking about walking on the sun or into the clouds. Perhaps Grug thinks, in his limited way, that even for a kid's film, this is cheesy, crappy, stolid, stultifying and dull thematic bullshit that the kids aren't going to care about as long as there's a lot of action and running around, and the parents have already gone to that distant happier place in their minds.

This flick's greatest fault is never of the technical variety, since it all looks fine and the 3D CGI is plenty eye and wallet gouging, I mean, sufficiently entertaining. Its fault is that it is tiresome. I have to admit that I found it all a bit tedious, more than a bit tedious, and the fault is in the script which I'm certain, regardless of what IMDb says, involved input from more than twenty people. John Cleese wrote this script; of legendary funny walks and parrots no longer amongst the living sketches, and Life of Brian and Holy Grail and Fawlty Towers infamy? That Guy, Wrote This?

Neanderthal, please. I find it easier to believe that they cloned versions of John Cleese and got a team of the dumber ones to put this script together from stuff they picked up from the backs of serial boxes.

Look, I know it's a kid's flick, but kids have to be accompanied, and that accompaniment, being me, can suffer severely at these kinds of events. Whatever I found myself weakly admiring within the story or how it was put together would inevitably be swamped by the mediocre thinking masquerading as mass appeal programming that defines this kind of stuff. Sure, my kid enjoyed it, mostly because she was watching it with one of her little friends, but she couldn't remember the flick an hour after we watched it.

And who can blame her.

5 times I was disappointed that I couldn't play my "if a Nicolas Cage flick has him in a crazy hairpiece, then it's greater than" out of 10

"This is called a brain. I think that's where ideas go
- "Dad, I don't have a brain." - just like this screenplay - The Croods