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Simple Kids’ Fun

The Croods
stars
Starring Emma Stone, Nic Cage, Ryan Reynolds

CAVE FAMILY: ‘The Croods’ is reminiscent of the old-school Looney Tunes’ gags—only expanded into an hour-and-a-half long format. Courtesy photo

CAVE FAMILY: ‘The Croods’ is reminiscent of the old-school Looney Tunes’ gags—only expanded into an hour-and-a-half long format. Courtesy photo

I’ve been going to the movies for a long time—for as far back as I can remember, which was the summer of 1977, when my father took me and my brothers to see “Star Wars” (I know, I’m a walking, talking geek cliché). I remember seeing the film and being stupid with excitement. I remember dressing up as Luke Skywalker with a terrycloth robe and having light-saber battles with cardboard tubes.

I have a lot of childhood memories intrinsically tied to movies. I can remember seeing “Grease” at a drive-in theater. I remember seeing garish sci-fi junk like “Tron” and “Flash Gordon.”

Eventually, my tastes matured. I often look back at the movies I once loved as a kid and laugh. What did I ever see in it? Even stuff like “Star Wars,” which is still loved by so many, now seems so childish and boring. My wife bought me the DVD set a few years back. I tried watching it but fell asleep about 20 minutes in. The fact is: Children’s movies don’t do a lot for me.

Then, something happened: Now, my wife is pregnant and expecting twin girls in June. For those of you with kids, you are well-aware of the life changes that occur almost overnight. I have been told by no less than 400,000 people that, and I quote, “Your life is going to change.” Thank you, Nostradamus, for that bold prediction; really, I wasn’t aware that two babies arriving simultaneously would alter the fabric of my reality.

While I’ve been considering all the changes I would undergo, I never thought about it through the filter of my movie-going habits. I watch a lot of movies; I’ve been writing about film for almost 15 years. During that time, animated kids’ movies have been the piss in my proverbial punch bowl. I’m not stupid enough to think I’m not going to find an appreciation for them once I have two cute little girls in my life. At some point I’m going to become that guy who goes and sees kid’s movies and is able to enjoy them because his kids do.
This thought crossed my mind last week as I laughed my way through the belligerently brutal “Evil Dead.” Once my children arrive, I’m going to start appreciating children’s films. Ah, the cinematic circle of life.

So, I decided I needed to take one more trip to the theater to see an animated kid’s movie before my brain turns to mush and cynical edge is dulled down to a harmless stump. It was with great dread I plunked down $7 to watch “The Croods.”

“The Croods” is the latest animated film from Dreamworks, which has been riding in the wake of Pixar for a decade, delivering the occasional hit (“Madagascar,” “How to Train a Dragon)” amidst an ocean of box-office disappointments (“Rise of the Guardians”). “The Croods” is a children’s movie that presents a very pretty picture, and fills it with slapstick humor and attention-span-killing speed. It reminded me a lot of the kind of cartoons I watched as a kid, like “Looney Tunes” with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, where over the course of 8 minutes they would bonk each other on the head with clubs or anvils. Or a Roadrunner cartoon, where Wile E. Coyote manages to blow up himself with TNT. The problem? Those cartoons were only a few minutes long; “The Croods” is nearly an hour-and-a-half of the same kind of gags shuffled and repeated for the duration of the film. At some point, it goes from being marginally amusing to painfully banal.

Eep (Emma Stone) lives with her overprotective father, Grug (Nic Cage), and family during prehistoric times. Grug is extremely paranoid about the dangers of the outside world and forces his family to live in the confined safety of a cave. Like all teenage girls, Eep is curious about what’s out there and wants to escape the restrictive existence. She gets her wish when a world-ending apocalypse comes their way. One night Eep sees a bright, orange light and goes to investigate. There she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a kind of stone-age hippie who has all sorts of modern wonders, like pants, fire and a pet sloth. Everything about “The Croods” is simple—cave-painting simple. Grug represents the past. Guy represents the future. Eep is the girl who wants to be seen as an equal in her father’s eyes. Even the jokes are prehistoric. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen so many mother-in-law gags in a movie, the kind of eye-rolling humor found in another caveman comedy: “The Flintstones.”

Not everything about “The Croods” is bad. Like most animated films, it’s pretty interesting visually. The landscapes and virtual cinematography is impressive in scale and scope. It’s another example of a film that creates a really unique landscape and world, then populates it with the same tired story tropes and characters. The voice acting is good. Though, I noticed throughout the film that Nic Cage actually seems more human in a movie where he is represented by a three-dimensional cartoon. Once again, Cage proves he is an enigma, wrapped in a conundrum, wrapped in a Coppola.

Maybe I’ll see “The Croods” differently once my kids show up, and I start to view cinema from their perspective. Perhaps I’ll be able to enjoy movies like this more. Or perhaps I’m going to be dealing with a very long, very painful endurance test until my kids are old enough to start watching The Criterion Collection with me.

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