We really need some folks writing at EFC who have kids to watch these movies with. Don't get me wrong, I like them and like reviewing them, but as a single childless almost-forty-year-old, I've got no idea how it plays to kids in the audience. I like the one, but I don't know if my usual technique of disassembling how it works necessarily works out as helpful.
At any rate, it's the new DreamWorks Animation movie, although it's weird seeing the Fox logo come up before it - I'd forgotten they signed a distribution deal. Between the DreamWorks and Blue Sky movies, Fox is going to be putting three or four animated movies out per year, which seems like rather a lot - probably more than Disney, which still seems to be sticking with one Pixar and one Disney Feature Animation release (augmented by a couple of 3D re-releases or something like Frankenweenie). Given that there was also a trailer for Despicable Me 2 and a Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 featurette in the pre-show, I wonder if we're likely to see another glut like in the mid-to-late-nineties. In some way, the implosion has already happened, with Robert Zemeckis's motion-capture studio shut down, but DreamWorks keeps expanding to fill the gap.
At least DreamWorks's expansion doesn't seem to be at the expanse of quality - a lot of the last animation expansion resulted in fairly mediocre movies, but DreamWorks has quietly built a solid reputation. Part of it is leaning on brands that have become popular, like Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon getting sequels and spin-offs, but if that many movies are taking off expansions, well, you're probably doing something right. It's not just doing marketable movies, either; yes, these movies do sell a lot of toys, but they haven't felt hollow or too obviously built on a template. That's perhaps more than can be said of Pixar of late - and even now, it's hard not to see DreamWorks and Pixar as rivals of a sort, ever since Antz and A Bug's Life came out within a couple months of each other - although I don't know if their public profile has gotten a boost to go with Pixar's hit.
One thing that DreamWorks has always focused on more than Disney & Pixar is the celebrity voicing, most noticeably promoting Shrek's voice cast a lot harder than was customary at the time but even way back with Antz, the notoriety of casting Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone as best friends was a big thing. It's interesting, here, just how much some of the characters, particularly Nicolas Cage's Grug and Catherine Keener's Ugga, really seem to be modeled on their actors. They're not actual likenesses, or even distorted ones, but Grug certainly evokes Cage enough that it's hard to imagine someone else voicing him for a sequel/spin-off. Impressive, considering how much the character's design emphasizes him as homo sapiens neanderthalis.
As good as it is, I do find myself wondering about what could have been - this was originally conceived by John Cleese to be produced by Aardman, but wound up at DreamWorks when the deal between the two companies fell apart (back when DreamWorks was a studio that could distribute other productions). I suspect it would have been a CGI production over there, too, although maybe with Grug based on Ray Winstone or Robbie Coltrane rather than Cage. The strange thing is that there's no obvious role for Cleese here - would there have been a grandfather rather than a grandmother? - and I can't really recall him ever writing things that he didn't have a part in.
* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2013 in Regal Fenway #10 (first-run, RealD 3D)
Not that the kids in the audience will care that much, but I'd like to know just how much John Cleese material is left in The Croods. Probably very little, and I'd like to see what that movie would have been like. Probably still weird but enjoyable, just in a different way.
Natural selection hasn't been good to cave people, with the Crood family - father Grug (voice of Nicolas Cage), mother Ugga (voice of Catherine Keener), teenage daughter Eep (voice of Emma Stone), son Thunk (voice of Clark Duke), baby Sandy, and Ugga's mother Gran (voice of Cloris Leachman) - still hanging in there because Grug has them retreat to safety at the first sign of danger, much to Eep's chagrin. That changes when she sneaks out one night and meets a cute home sapiens sapiens, Guy (voice of Ryan Reynolds) who brings both fire and warning that the world is about to end.
Not our world, precisely - early shots show an Earth with Pangaea splitting into the familiar continents, but there wouldn't have been humans around then, so figure it's a wholly imaginary storybook world - one with a thoroughly amazing variety of flora and fauna, half impossible, mostly carnivorous, but all colorful and not just pretty but an ideal fit for the movie's world. They've got the exaggerated features of cartoons but also enough weight and balance to feel like genuine dangers when they need to. Take the sabertoothed tiger that follows and menaces them; his big head makes him adorable, but you wouldn't want to be between him and his dinner. The landscape itself is just as wild, and there are very few moments when there's not something on-screen worth gawking at a little.
Full review on eFilmCritic.