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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Croods

THE CROODS (Three Stars)

U.S.: D-Sc: Chris Sanders & Kirk De Micco, 2013

The Croods — DreamWorks Animaton’s state-of-the-evolution feature cartoon about a lively family of cavepersons –once again suggests that big-time Hollywood has more respect for the intelligence of children (and their accompanying families) than it does for adults.  While we more mature folks this week are offered Olympus has Fallen, a rattle-brained political thriller about a North Korean terrorist group kidnapping the President, a picture that turns the world into a cartoon (and a ridiculous cartoon at that) — the animated family show The Croods  takes its cartoonish idea, a road movie with variations on The Flintstones,  and makes a whole shining, spectacular, whiz-bang, brave old world out of it.

The Croods — apparently one of the last surviving families of this movie’s version of the Neanderthal Era — are a clan of pelt-clad cave-dwellers, whose skittish dad Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) keeps them huddled in their cave at night and fuddled together by day (except for the unusually hyper-active egg-hunt that starts the movie), while advising them to “Never Not be Afraid.” His family, a colorful, meticulously drawn, computered  and animated  crew, includes practical wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), dim-bulb son Thunk  (Clark Duke), explosive baby Sandy (Randy Thom), fussy old grandma Gran (Cloris Leachman), and Grug’s opposite number and family antagonist, rebellious daughter Eep (Emma Stone).

It’s a millennium-old clash. Grug likes to cuddle up to a nice warm rock after an evening of watching cave drawings. But Eep believes there’s s a great big wonderful non-Neanderthal world out there, and she doesn’t want to spend so much of her life huddling in  the cave while the sun sets, and listening to Grug’s cautionary bed-time tales about how you should never not be afraid.

So, the next day, after demonstrating some formidable cliff-climbing skills, muscular little Eep runs into cute Guy (Ryan Reynolds), the homo sapiens of her  dreams, an evolved kid who has already invented fire-torches, primitive shoes and primitive photography. (You whap somebody’s face with a muddy rock to get an imprint). Looks like love. But soon the movie’s second major plot twist kicks in:   Continental Drift arrives ( a little late), the caves start crumbling, and Grug decides to relocate somewhere where his house won‘t disintegrate. The Croods become a family on the move, with an ongoing philosophical duel, mediated by Eep, generated between the ultra-conservative Grug and the idea guy of the future, Guy.

It’s not a particularly original story. But director-writers Chris Sanders (How to Train a Dragon, Lilo and Stitch) and Kirk De Micco (Space Chimps) have supplied some engaging characters and lots of Looney Tune action, and the movie‘s legion of artists have come up with some amazing imaginary prehistoric animals and plants (including piranha-parakeets, bear owls, macawnavores and blue monkeys), as well as richly detailed 3D landscapes though which the Croods migrate with admirable pluck and aplomb. There are even some heart-tuggers at the end, which should mollify any conservatives rooting for Grug.

Cartoonery these days has gotten so virtuosic that we don’t necessarily always expect good scripts, of the Pixar variety. (Fox after all is the studio that gave us Ice Age.) But The Croods — which started life as an Ardman (Wallace & Gromit) stop-motion project called “Crood Awakening” (a much better title),  co-written by John Cleese — doesn’t have a bad one. Sanders and De Micco’s scenario may pack a few clichés, but it makes more sense than the loony goings-on in Olympus Has Fallen.

What The Croods doesn’t have  — and I wish it did — is that one-time glorious staple of classic feature cartoons and even of he movies of the ‘80s Disney Revival, and more recently of Entangled: a song score. Several times in The Croods, a jaunty little musical intro started up, and I kidded myself that Nic Cage or Emma Stone were about to cut loose in a song and dance, called maybe “I’m a Rock, You’re a Roll, and He‘s a Homo Sap”  or “Neanderthal Nights” Or “Let’s Watch the Sun Rise.” But no such Crood luck. Apparently the formula of casting big star voice actors, who can’t necessarily sing, and of holding oof on the movie’s new song to the endless closing credit crawl, has become as immovable as an ice age.

Too bad. The songs were often  high water marks of the classic cartoons — from “Someday My Price Will Come’ in Snow White to The Pink Elephant Dance in Dumbo, to “Under the Sea” in The Little Mermaid, to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” in The Lion King, to “When She Loved Me” in Toy Story 2, to the numbers in Entangled. I really miss them.

As for The Croods: Kids will probably enjoy it. Adults will be split.  And Neanderthals will get a big bang out of Grug’s redemption — which I confessed moved me more than the one wirh humnan actors in Olympus.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon