The Croods begins at the end of the beginning. An opening scene of cave painting-esque exposition reveals that there used to be more cave families similar the titular Croods before a series of oversized animal attacks wiped them out. The Crood family, in an effort to preserve their lives in this clearly dangerous time, live most of their lives in the darkness of their cave, venturing out only to find food.
Fear dominates the Croods, not by accident, but by design. Each night before the family tucks into bed (in a very humorous way), the patriarch, Grug, tells the family stories that always end with the death of their curious protagonists. “Never don’t be afraid” is the family motto, and their carefully cultivated fear isn’t, necessarily, of the big beasts that prowl their cave’s stoop. Instead, they are afraid of information, of being exposed to something new, of learning and even of yearning to learn. The darkness of the Croods’ cave is predictable, controllable, and safe.
All of that sounds very dire, and upon reflection, it is, but while the film does explicitly drive home the Croods’ readily embraced terror, it also never sits with that fear for long, leaping instead from one joke and/or clever visual sequence to another. The opening egg hunt pictured as a family football game which morphs into a high speed chase scene with the Croods piloting prehistoric creatures instead of cars is particularly fun. Their world, including both the barren rocks where they live when the story begins and the lush paradise cleverly hidden from them, is hugely inventive and constantly surprising.
Eventually, a guy named “Guy” appears carrying a torch (literally and figuratively) for the Croods’ eldest daughter Eep. Guy is a step above the Cro-Magnon Croods on the evolutionary ladder. He is full of ideas and threatens Grug position of leadership and Grug’s fear-based survival schemes. Guy’s inter-generational conflict with Grug symbolizes old versus new, tradition versus change, being conservative versus being innovative, etc. To the film’s credit, it manages to highlight what’s valuable about both philosophies – the strength that comes with tradition and the flexibility that comes with innovation. Both sides have to learn to appreciate the other to survive. Compromise prevails, not extremism of any kind.
The Croods is very “on the primordial proboscis,” and it’s difficult to take exception with anything that favors knowledge over fear, so I won’t try. Instead, I’ll write briefly on my favorite scene in the film in which the Croods first encounter fire. Guy drops his torch when he’s knocked unconscious by one of the well-meaning neanderthals. While he’s unconscious, the family plays with fire, eventually setting themselves and the field around them aflame.
It’s a very funny sequence which mirrors the way people always seem to react to a new technology. We get too eager to use it before we know what it can do or how it can hurt us, making lots of mistakes before we get a handle on how the technology is best used. For example, cell phones are pretty great, but we probably shoudn’t use them in restaurants, while driving, or even, God forbid, in movie theaters. The Croods eventually learn to use fire (and all the other technologies Guy introduces them to), and I’m sure we’ll get the hang of cell phones, and other potentially more destructive technologies like genetic engineering and nuclear fission, eventually.
In conclusion, the characters and the world of The Croods are both well developed and enchanting. The Croods put the “fun” in dysfunctional (yep, I went there), and each family member is distinct and ripe for further development. I also wouldn’t mind exploring more of the world they inhabit. I would enjoy seeing more of the Croods, but given this story’s thin plot and easy themes, I feel no need to see this movie again. In the end, The Croods feels more like a prehistoric prequel to a weekly, half-hour cartoon. I’d watch that show.