March 25, 2013

Write up and Review of The Croods

Directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders.

Voices of Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman.
One huge pull for me to see The Croods was the involvement of Chris Sanders of whom I'm a big fan. I'm happy to report that the film is oozing with the Sanders touch. You can feel it in the story, the gags and the look of the film. Kirk DeMicco I was not familiar with before learning about The Croods but he co-directed the film and came up with the original conceit. I'm looking forward to seeing more projects come out of both directors. They have a love for cartoons and story which is exciting. The Croods had a real cartoony style... I think "cartoon" for some comes off as a dirty word, a word that makes grown ups roll their eyes and go back to their "real movies about real people" or whatever. But by cartoony I mean that while the characters are developed and real and the story is solid, falling off a cliff or getting struck by lightning or smacked in the face by a rock doesn't cause serious injury to the characters. There is a lot of laugh out loud slapstick humor and gags. The sort that audiences rarely get to indulge in at the theater these days. And every gag is in service of story or character. DeMicco commented in an interview that he really loves the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons and that he wrote a first pass on a Hong Kong Phooey script. (This was before there was a Kung Fu Panda). DeMicco said that it felt like it was a dream project though the property left his hands before it was completed.
The Croods started in 2004 as a script written by Kirk DeMicco with John Cleese. It was a caveman movie about the fear of change featuring a very inventive guy alongside a luddite to be animated with stop-motion animation by Aardman Studios. In 2007 when Sanders came onto the project the story was then about a village of cavemen led by Grug. DeMicco and Sanders worked on that idea for a year and were struggling to get it to work. Sanders was asked to go work on How to Train Your Dragon (which he co-directed with Dean DeBlois). Soon after, DeMicco called Sanders up with a pitch about one family that goes on a road trip to find a new home when their cave is destroyed. Both directors realised that this new conceit really allowed the theme of change to work.

I read a comment  by a reader at Cartoon Brew on a The Croods talkback post that lamented Eep's lack of an arc. I think this reader is missing the point. The creators of the film didn't set out to write a "bad-ass girl shows the world who wears the pants" story. Eep is independent, strong, motivated and honest. She wants more from life and clashes with her dad Grug on the lifestyle of their family. And the very theme of the movie is to chase tomorrow, to want a better life and not be afraid of change. Eep's curiosity and rebellious nature eventually sets the whole family on a path of change and discovery. And she sticks to her guns throughout the film. The character who really experiences an arc is Grug. He is afraid of change but realises that his family does crave a better tomorrow and that change can mean discovery and betterment. I found it easy to feel for Grug since he is a strong and protective dad and is just so damn earnest. He cares about his family more than anything. While his "never not be afraid" attitude is stagnant and frustrating to his family, it did keep his family alive for a long time.

The Croodaeceous Era is visually stunning and very lush. The trailers feature a lot of dry looking rocks and caves, but there is a whole gorgeous alien world that The Croods enter that is to be enjoyed like candy. The world is populated by many fun and appealling prehistoric animals. Watch out for crocopups, trip gerbils, mousephants and of course adorable and fierce macawnivores; that brightly colored giant headed cat creature you'll see on some of the promo posters.

Personally, I loved seeing this movie. I laughed out loud at many clever gags. The film's conceit and world felt unique and refreshing. I felt that the threat the family was running from was clear and the resolution satisfying, emotional and fun. I was very pleased with each individual character's personality and role in the film. The cartoony nature of the film was so much fun. The family really behaved like a family. Each character acted on impulse which felt real and it was entertaining as hell. I watched the first trailer ages ago and felt like it made the film out to be cheesey and mushy. When I go back and watch the trailers now I don't feel like that anymore but the way that they are cut just doesn't compare to the quality of the film.

Now who doesn't love checking out deleted scenes and storyboards? Or drooling over Chris Sanders drawings? Sanders posted a bunch of deleted boards from the film on his personal blog, check them out! Currently there are 10 entries of deleted boards, just scroll down and drink them in.
Head of character animation on the film was done by James Baxter and you can check out a series of videos released by Dreamworks on youtube of him showing you how to draw characters from the film! Here is the video of Eep!
A couple of the great artists who worked on the film were Steven A. Macleod on storyboards, Shannon Tindle on character design and Nicolas Weis on visual development. But that is only a few of the many great artists who had a hand in making this film. You can check out lots more gorgeous loveliness in The Croods art of book. Here's a great review on that from an excellent unofficial The Croods blog and you can get the book here.

I don't really want to share any clips of the movie here since you will want to be surprised by the clever gags in the theater with an audience and laugh out out with them. (Ok so I watched all the trailers but ended up laughing at the gags when they were on screen anyway.) But really, just go see it in theaters the way it was meant to be seen and enjoyed!

4 comments:

  1. Hey, Andrea. Nice write-up. And thanks for plugging my review! In return, here are a couple of Chris Sanders quotes to keep you inspired:

    “I believe that engaging people emotionally is easier with a freehand drawing. There is something in that analog process, something more emotional and engaging. There is much more work to do to convey the same emotion with the characters in CGI.”

    and...

    "If there's one thing that I do miss about [hand-drawn animation], it's the emotion we were able to achieve. You look at a film like A Charlie Brown Christmas, and it's the most simply animated film, but it's SO FULL of emotion. It gets you every time you watch it! That's the thing that's so special about seeing someone's drawings up there -- you can FEEL the emotion."

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  2. Hey, thanks for the quotes! I think we have some similar loves in life :D I'm glad you made such an informative blog, it's a great resource for animation fans.

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  3. This is another fun family film that you and your kids (if you have any) will enjoy. Lonely people may not hate this, but may just warm up to it after awhile. Good review Andrea.

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  4. Thanks Dan :) I do think that this film has a wide appeal and kids will like it, but adults may just love it.

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Rough key sketch of Babette!

I'm currently rough animating this shot.