The Croods

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by: Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
Written by: Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”)

They may not be the modern-Stone Age family most are familiar with in the cartoon caveman world, but “The Croods” is just as satisfying as any brontosaurus burger you’re likely to find at a prehistoric drive-thru. Sure, the characterizations can sway into familiar territory, but with some overall rock-solid voice acting and directors/writers Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”) digging deep into their imaginations for some fun storytelling, “The Croods” is a family-friendly winner in any era.

While the title of the film isn’t a great way to introduce us to the family (they might as well have called them The Uncooths or The Roughinskys), “The Croods” makes up for it in entertaining albeit recognizable characters. Grug (Nicholas Cage) is the overly-protective patriarch of the family, who uses fear-mongering to get his family to always stay safe in the confines of their cave. Monstrous cat-like creatures roam the terrain, after all. His rebellious teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone), however, is curious to know what she is missing in a world so full of wonder (“Little Mermaid” anyone?). Rounding out the family tree is Eep’s mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), the logical thinker of the family who understands where her daughter is coming from; Eep’s dopey brother Thunk (Clark Duke), who is basically Chris Griffin (“Family Guy”) in woolly mammoth clothing; Gran (Cloris Leachman), who technically isn’t a Crood since she’s Grugs’s mother-in-law, but still delivers some old-lady laughs; and Sandy (Randy Thom), a toddler that acts more like a Gremlin than baby.

When the family meet Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a more civilized version their Neanderthal selves, Ugg is skeptical of all the fancy inventions he introduces them to like fire and shoes. Driven from their home after a natural disaster, the Croods are forced to journey through strange lands to find a new place to inhabit. During their barefoot road trip, the family learns that experiencing new things is all part of life and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be eaten whole by a Sabre-Toothed Tiger.

It’s a wonderful message for kids and stops short before rubbing their faces in it. The colorful and incredibly striking animation and funny sight gags and slapstick are what will keep children under the age of eight the most fascinated anyway. Parents, too, shouldn’t find themselves bored with a collection of exotic animals and settings. The creativity makes the Croods’ cave-hunting all the more exciting. The deeper family story also never slow the narrative down in any way. In fact, “The Croods” says a lot more about the father/daughter relationship than Pixar’s “Brave” said about mothers and daughters last year.

Like in some animated films, there is a scene-stealing secondary character like the Minions in “Despicable Me” or the sly penguins in the “Madagascar” franchise. So take heed parents because Belt, Guy’s loveable sloth who he keeps around his waist, will keep everyone laughing with his cliffhanger-inspired crooning. If you’re lucky, the plush version (and not the stinky alive version) will be on your kids’ Christmas lists this year.

Louis Flores – The Croods

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the animated film “The Croods,” a prehistoric family goes on an adventure through the Stone Age when their cave is destroyed and the world around them begins to change. As the visual effects lead for the DreamWorks film, Louis Flores was in charge of digitally creating one of the phenomena that separates the Neanderthal with the more modern-day man: fire. During our interview, Flores, who has also worked on the visual effects of such films as “Kung Fu Panda,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” discussed how certain technology has changed since he started in the industry and how he feels when he sees all his hard work shown on the big screen for the first time.

What is your specific job as the visual effects lead of an animated film like “The Croods?”

Specifically I do a lot of visual development and how effects are going to look. I worked on all the fire in the film. So, whenever you see fire I’m the one that developed how it should look.

So, to create fire, does that entail studying how fire moves and illuminates and everything else that comes with it?

We definitely have references we look at all the time. For this particular movie we wanted the fire to look more real than stylized like it did in previous films. So, typically, we’ll go outside and burn something and look at the smoke and how the fire is taking shape. We bring that footage in and can watch it as we’re working.

So, is it safe to say this is not the same technique you would use in, say, creating fire that comes out of a dragon’s mouth?

Not exactly. I worked on “How to Train Your Dragon” and that fire is a completely different system. Even in this film I think we went through three or four different ways of creating fire. Part of that comes from the advances in technology that change from the beginning of production to the end.

How do you manage to keep up with that much change in technology, so you don’t fall behind?

You just have to keep up. You always want your effects to look better. You’re always learning, which is one of the benefits of working in this department. You’re never bored. There’s always something new to learn.

Twenty years ago, natural elements like fire and water looked good in animated films, but they didn’t look as real as they look today. Would you consider “The Croods” a groundbreaking film in that aspect?

I think we made a big leap in this particular movie. In this film they needed to look more realistic and less cartoony just to fit the world the characters are in. I think “The Croods” is one of the best looking movies [DreamWorks] has ever made.

Is it still as magical to see all your work on the big screen as it was the first time you finished a feature film?

It is. We get to see it a lot during production, but it’s always in bits and pieces. You never really know what the final product is going to look like. When it’s all put together with music and sound effects, it’s really exciting.