“The Croods” explores family values and essential questions

April 12, 2013

“The Croods,” ostensibly a children’s movie, was created by the same minds that wrote “How To Train Your Dragon.” DreamWorks brought together a star-studded cast, which includes the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone and Nicolas Cage. The story follows the travels and travails of the first prehistoric family, who must set out on a quest to reach safety on a mountaintop after their cave is destroyed during the movement of continents. The family explores new, fantastic landscapes and finds extraordinary creatures while dealing with complex interpersonal relationships along with one of the three great quests of mankind: the quest for meaning.

The main character of the movie is the adolescent cavewoman Eep, who longs to find out what lay beyond the confines of her cave and her strict father, Grug, whose sole goal is to ensure the family’s survival. She has always been told to not stray after dark, that the family’s cave means safety, and that “fear keeps [them] safe.” Eep struggles to reconcile herself to this ideal, consistently asking, “What is the point of all this? I mean, why are we here? What are we doing this for?” She believes that there is more to life than mere survival, that other things must be experienced, and that fear should be left behind to have a truly fulfilling life. Eep is an outgoing character, one that has been used repeatedly in storytelling, but one whom Emma Stone plays to the fullest.

The movie brings some historical context to the family’s life. They are consistently amazed and excited for their patriarch’s story time, during which every tale regarding a wandering caveman ends with “And he/she died.” The tales are used to pass on history, knowledge and survival tips, and are lapped up by the family on every occasion. DreamWorks Studios also traces the development of art and storytelling in a physical form throughout the movie, showing the thought processes and motives behind cave art. They feel a need to leave something physical behind as a reference and a reminder of the past.

The story progresses through a series of conflicts that interweave at exactly the right moments to heighten tension and draw the viewer along. The three main plotlines involve the relationship between Eep and her father Grug, Eep’s relationship with Guy and Grug’s resulting feud with his daughter’s new love interest. Just as the viewer begins to tire of one conflict, the other steps in to take over and draw the audience’s attention. Fights with Grug are followed by scenes with Guy, which are then continued by battles between Guy and Grug for Eep’s affections. Guy is a new-age caveman, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, a teenager whose parents died and who has had to take care of himself in the wild for years. He has learned to tame fire and understands what must be done to survive. Guy’s plan, however, conflicts with Grug’s method, which has never failed him.

Grug resents the fact that a younger male has stepped in to lead his family, and resents even more the fact that most of his family seems to love the new addition to the pride. The three main actors mesh well together; the chemistry between Stone and Reynolds is apparent and Cage’s voiceover of Grug flows well with the age-old theme of distrustful fathers’ relationship with their daughters’ boyfriends. As the family travels from their old home to the safety of the mountaintop, they run into many dangers, such as an enormous saber tooth and a flock of piranha-esque birds. They must cross vastly different terrains, from humid jungles to arid deserts. Guy shows his ingenuity again and again, making shoes for the family, teaching them how to use conch shells to signal to one another and leading the way through the darkness using his command of fire.

The family ends its journey having found what they were looking for: safety from the damage dealt by the shifting continents and answers to the questions that the journey has posed. They learn, in the end, that living for safety and survival is not the only way to do things, and that there is more to the world than striving to avoid death. They find beauty in their surroundings and in each other, while learning to interact together as a cohesive unit and sorting out their differences painlessly. If you enjoyed watching “How To Train Your Dragon,” “The Croods” is a must see.

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