The '90s are over. It died at least 13 years ago. We've all stopped wearing our Blossom hats, humanely put down our Tamagotchis, and moved on. But some embarrassing elements from that decade still remain etched within our pop cultural landscape, and try as we might, we simply can't escape them.
One of those more regrettable elements is the sight of a cartoon character who is so full of attitude and so unlike your Daddy's cartoon character that it can't help but snowboard down a totally gnarls mountain, brah! It's amazing this concept lives on because even in the '90s, it was considered a desperate way to appeal to children and young adults. Nowadays the idea is so clichéd that it doesn't even work when it's used ironically.
Nonetheless, about 30 minutes into “The Croods,” we get, not one, but six cavemen shooting a mean whipple down the foamy flip-flop (A sniggering 14-year-old has informed me that these are, in fact, snowboarding terms). This flashy yet clueless sequence sums up everything that's cynical and lazy about “The Croods.” Consider this movie to be the cinematic equivalent to jiggling car keys in front of a cooing, clapping infant.
But to be fair, “The Croods” does boast a kinetic opening that finds the Croods – a family of not-quite-fully-evolved Neanderthals – hunting for food and eventually trapped in the middle of an elaborate game of keep-away as they try to evade predatory rivals. But once that dazzling sequence ends, the film slips into far more inert territories as we're introduced to Grug (Nicolas Cage), the paranoid patriarch of the Croods who keeps his family holed up in a cave most of the time because he's convinced that new or unfamiliar things will kill you.
Tired of living under the rules of her fear-mongering father, the adventurous Eep (Emma Stone) sneaks out of the family cave one night and encounters Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a slightly more evolved cavemen who shares Eep's lust for life.
Coincidentally, shortly after Eep's escape, the family cave is destroyed by a violent earthquake. With nowhere else to go, the Croods reluctantly follow Guy to greener pastures, even though his only solution is to “ride away on the sun.”
It's unfortunate that “The Croods” only seems to reinforce John Kricafulusi's lie that writers have no place in animation because throughout the film, the writers only seem to get in the way of the surreal invention of the animators. Taking place in a bizarre pastel-colored version of Pangea, the world of “The Croods” takes place in an odd alternate timeline in which whales walk on land, humans are attacked by large owl/bobcat hybrids, and piranhas have wings.
There's a fun absurdist streak running throughout “The Croods,” but it's constantly undercut by the achingly conventional storyline that leans heavily on easy pop culture references and creaky “Flintstones” inspired anachronisms, and it just generally feels like somebody took the script from a late period “Ice Age” sequel, swapped out the prehistoric animals, and replaced them with caveman.
“The Croods” also pays near constant lip service to living life to its fullest and enjoying its attendant wonders and joys, which is very difficult to swallow. If life is so great, why did I waste 91 minutes of it watching “The Croods”?