Monday, April 29, 2013

The Croods: A Review

I don’t normally do reviews, but having recently been so immersed in the 2008-2012 gender ratio study I’ve been doing, I decided to talk about a movie I recently saw that I had a very strong reaction to, The Croods. Spoilers abound (be warned).

Gender Issues:
The movie starts with Eep, the teenage daughter narrating. She presents the story as if it will be about her family, through her perspective. About a half an hour into the movie the focus begins to shift.  As the story progresses it becomes increasingly obvious that the father is the main protagonist (and the only character with a full character arc), and Eep will be only the daughter to Grug and love interest to Guy.

The movie focuses on the importance of being creative and having new ideas – for the father, that is. Besides being the catalyst for the conflict of the movie, the reason Guy becomes a part of the narrative, Eep does nothing truly active to propel the plot forward. She does not get a character arc.
Now, I don’t think that having a movie focus on a father, and his growth through bonding with his daughter's potential love interest is an issue. Hotel Transylvania did it, but they very clearly presented the father as the main protagonist. The fact that trailers for The Croods and the first half of the movie presented Eep as the main character only to shove her aside really bothered me. 


As an adult I understand that the father was the active character in the movie. It was he who grew and changed, it was he who was the main protagonist. But I wonder about younger viewers, especially because male protagonists already heavily outnumber female ones in family targeted American animated theatrical releases. I wonder if they will understand. Or will young boy and girls watch the movie and think that this is what a female protagonist is: the secondary character in her own story. That this is what a female protagonist does: nothing.
The Good:
Now, that aside I would like to say that this movie is gorgeous, that character designs are expressive and feel alive. The humor was (nearly) consistently funny, and the characters were fun, and likeable. This is probably the first animated movie I’ve seen since Coraline that I thought used the 3D so effectively. The first half of this movie was very enjoyable.

The Bad:
By the 2/3rds point of the movie I had accepted the fact that Eep was not going to be the protagonist; I was along for the ride and it was looking to be a good one. At this point I thought that Grug was going to learn that in order to survive their new life on the road he had to be willing to take risks, and that Guy was going to learn that while risk taking was necessary they should be calculated. This was not the case. 

Grug is treated by the other characters as if he never has creative ideas, as if his mantra of “never not be afraid” is all bad. Yet the beginning of the movie establishes that all of The Crood’s neighbors are dead. They were slaughtered by various wild animals and disease. Grug might be overly cautious but he has kept his family alive, and we see he is creative in the way he leads them to hunt and the way he keeps his family safe. The problem is not that Grug doesn’t have any ideas only that his experience is so limited that the ideas he has does them no good on their new adventure through a new environment with new threats.
Grug, is punished for being sensibly afraid, while Guy is constantly rewarded for increasingly dangerous decisions. For Example:

  • Grug is afraid of umbrellas. They could be dangerous. We learn they can be dangerous by drawing lightning to you. Grug is the only one punished by this, because he did not listen to Guy.
  • Grug is afraid to jump into water. It could be dangerous. He is right, because you can sink to the bottom if you don't know how to swim and be attacked by animals that can. Grug is the only one punished by this.
  • Grug is afraid to split up in a maze. It could be dangerous. Which he is again right about, because you could get trapped alone in the middle of it with no supplies, no support, and no way out. Again, Grug is the only one punished.
Its no wonder Grug doesn't want to take chances, because he's constantly justified in his fears. But that's not the worst of it. Guy tells a story that gives the Crood family hope about trying new things, and not being afraid. It involves flying by leaping onto the sun, and riding to a land called Tomorrow.  Guy knows what a joke is: “making something up to make people laugh.” We soon find out that he doesn’t know what an allegory is.  

Guy shows the Crood family the stars, he believes that they are suns that have crossed through the sky and now rest in Tomorrow. As the movie ramps up to its conclusion, Guy and the Crood family run towards a meadow of clouds (swirling dust maybe?) with the sun hanging so large in the air it looks like they could touch it.  

“There is the sun,” cries Guy, “We can do it, we can ride it to Tomorrow!”

Yes.  Guy believes you can literally ride the sun to an actual place called Tomorrow. He tells them to run into the swirling abyss with no way of knowing if there is even land for them to stand on. The only thing that stops them from leaping off a cliff, is that the moving earthquake/land split clearly divides where they stand so that they cannot "reach the sun" any longer.

This is never dealt with in the movie. In fact, this is used to convince Grug he was in the wrong and needs to change, starting by tossing his family off a cliff into the dusty air you can't see through with the assumption (built on nothing) that this will land them safely somewhere. At least he started with Guy, I guess... but maybe he should have started with a rock or something. You know, the whole calculated risks thing?
Then there was THIS:
He just wanted to be their buddy.
The ending of the movie hinges on the fact that animals that have been presented to the audience as a legitimate threat that will kill and eat the Croods if they have a chance decide to be their friends. FOR NO REASON. If you are going to make your character's survival hinge on having animal friends, then spend at least two scenes having them gain the wild animal's trust and tame them.
At the end of the movie Eep is riding one of these.
End Rant/

Now all of that in mind, I will say that visually this movie is worth seeing in 3D, and that if you are looking for an afternoon movie and willing to let go of things like world consistency and strong character arcs, and a clear main protagonist, this movie is a pleasant watch (everyone else I went to see it with enjoyed it, and the audience was definitely laughing). And I do have some hope that since a sequel has been announced someone might actually draw the good things from this movie and build on them. Though I might be being overly optimistic.


What did you guys think?

... and on a slightly unrelated note. Can someone please let Chris Sanders make another hand animated movie?


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