Monday, September 5, 2016

The Croods

Year 8, Day 249 - 9/5/16 - Movie #2,444

BEFORE: A note about scheduling, because I had this one on the list for a while, with Ryan Reynolds carrying over from "Deadpool", but then I took it off, because I had too many films for the slots left in 2016.  I figured I could watch it next year, either with "The Good Dinosaur", or by connecting to Emma Stone in "Irrational Man".  But now it's back.  The reason?  I got my link between the end of one chain ("The Man from U.N.C.L.E.") and the start of the next ("Spectre"), and that link was "The Danish Girl".  But then along came "Layer Cake", which also links to those films, and nothing on next year's list.  So, I found a place in late November where I was using three films to make a connection, where only one was needed.  Those three films ("Hot Pursuit", "Wild" and "Age of Adaline") are now gone, replaced by "Lone Survivor" and there was room for "Layer Cake" - but then I was one film short, so "The Croods" is back in, sandwiched between two Ryan Reynolds films.  

And I didn't even really see any connection to Labor Day, until I caught up with enough TV this weekend so I could watch some episodes of "BBQ Crawl", since Travel Channel finally cooperated and ran the episodes of Season 3 I was missing.  (For some reason, even though they were scheduled last summer, they ran episodes of "Man vs. Food" in their place - and I wanted to watch them all in the proper order, since they represent a woman BBQ competitor's very specific journey across the country.)  And we went out for BBQ ourselves today, as we did last Labor Day, and then it hit me.  Labor Day = BBQ, and BBQ = cavemen.   So there you go, I've got my "in" for this film.

THE PLOT:  After their cave is destroyed, a caveman family must trek through an unfamiliar fantastical world with the help of an inventive boy.

AFTER: You know, this film wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.  Oh, sure, there were plenty of inconsistencies that kids wouldn't care about, but which bother me as an adult, like cavemen in ancient times speaking modern English, or inventing things that they couldn't possibly know about, or making references to modern things like "snapshots" or "belts" - but most of these were done in a cheeky way, putting little twists on them, like the Flintstones show used to do.  

I wish I could just turn the critical part of my brain off, just relax and float downstream and not notice little nitpicky things, but I think we both know I'm way past that point.  I have to notice, I have to comment. Did the same cavemen who discovered fire also invent cave paintings, shoes, puppetry, sunglasses, not to mention a crude flying machine?  Of course not, these things took thousands of years.
But it's funny (sort of) to think that they might have these things.  

I'm more concerned with inconsistencies in the storyline, so let's put the inventing thing on hold for a minute.  At the start of the film, our prehistoric family is seen obtaining a bird's egg for breakfast, in an overly complicated battle against the adult bird, and other jungle animals as well.  During this, they seem to display above average, nearly superhuman running techniques.  Yet, later in the film, when they have to walk across a long distance to reach a mountain, they walk very slowly and also complain about it.  Well, why don't they all just run there?  If they could run as fast as they did in the opening scenes, they'd be there in 5 minutes?   

Next we've got the family motto at the start of the film: "Never not be afraid."  In other words, this family has learned to survive by being afraid of everything - strange foods, unfamiliar animals, any sort of change.  We know that's not really a great way to live, by modern standards, so we assume that it will change, and by the end of the film, of course, it's become "Never be afraid."  But what, exactly, changed their minds?  Being forced to make this journey across the land to safer ground certainly put them in touch with new things, but many of those new things were dangerous, so I don't really see what changed their minds - if anything, it seems like their experiences would have reinforced the original motto.  

And yes, they eventually learn to expand their horizons, and think outside the cave.  But is cave-dwelling really so bad, for humankind in general?  Isn't that the thing that set humans apart from most other animals, that is, when caves eventually became houses, and people learned to farm and build cities and such?  Living indoors is what allowed our species to be the most successful, so why use the rejection of all that as a basis for the film's moral?  

I think the fact that the film's story went through a number of revisions is the key to understanding how disjointed it all feels.  There's a story credit given to John Cleese of Monty Python fame, and it seems at one point he was developing a film based on Roald Dahl's "The Twits", and DreamWorks sort of adapted that script into a basic story about two cavemen, one of which was an inventor, and then that project became the more family-oriented story seen here, with an inventor thrown in as the daughter's potential boyfriend.  

Altogether this seemed like a lot of "Ice Age" (prehistoric creatures trekking across a great distance to safety) combined with some of the inventiveness of "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" (animal mash-ups like the Macawnivore and the Pirahnakeets) but it fell a little short by over-simplifying the whole history of human survival down to just this one family.  Are we supposed to believe that the Croods are the last Neanderthals and Guy is the first Cro-Magnon?  

Also starring the voices of Nicolas Cage (last seen in "Joe"), Catherine Keener (last seen in "About Last Night..."), Emma Stone (last seen in "Aloha"), Clark Duke (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), Cloris Leachman, Chris Sanders, Randy Thom.  

RATING: 5 out of 10 Punch Monkeys

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