The Croods - Blu-ray Review

'It’s becoming harder and harder for computer-animated cinema to genuinely stand out with its visuals, but DreamWorks clearly aren’t bothered about even trying.'

I now consider myself a former fan of DreamWorks Animation. You see, it’s been quite a while since the studio have released any films which deserve recognition as anything other than lazy, derivative, lowest-common-denominator fare. DreamWorks are more than occasionally still held up as the main rival studio to Pixar, who despite a relative dip in the consistent high quality of their output still remain far and away the animation studio to beat. Maybe DreamWorks deserved this position once upon a time, but a glance at their recent back catalogue speaks volumes as to how far down they have fallen.

How To Train Your Dragon (a film I personally wasn’t overwhelmed by but which can be recognised as DreamWorks Animation’s last film both commercially and critically successful) was released well over three years ago. Since then, four of the eight movies the animation house have released have been sequels or spin-offs from existing franchises. Two of those were installments in the Shrek series, both of which managed to pummel a once innovative and entertaining ogre-based franchise into a tired and pathetic husk of its former self.

Turning your attention to The Croods, the studio’s first release of 2013, only hammers the point home further. Comparisons to The Flintstones are inevitable, but thankfully there’s not too much to be found here purloined from that much-loved prehistoric animated classic. Sadly, what you do end up with embodies the problems inherent in the studio’s current output. DreamWorks clearly still have the clout to round up an impressive voice cast, with the likes of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Catherine Keener all present - it’s just a shame they spend the whole film collectively phoning it in, clearly as bored as those watching.

The story is about as episodic as it’s possible to be, containing a grand total of zero surprises. Dad Grug (Cage) lives by the mantra that new is always bad, so there are no prizes for guessing what he learns by the time the credits roll. Grug is especially overprotective of daughter Eep (Stone), meaning when she becomes enamoured with newcomer Guy (Reynolds) the film falls back on a triangle of conflict between Eep, Guy and Grug seen a hundred times before in most family-based TV sitcoms. A handful of scenes in the final act add some rudimentary depth to Grug and Guy, but most of the cast end the film as one-dimensionally as they started it. And just to make sure things are as stale and hackneyed as possible, there’s an agonising line of mother-in-law humour as Grug and Gran (Cloris Leachman) trade tired insults and unfunny blows throughout.

There are a handful of relatively well-constructed action set pieces here, although they never achieve much more than momentarily distracting from the film’s inherent flaws. The setting - a fantasy version of a prehistoric world, inhabited by fluorescent hybrid creatures - rarely manages to impress and more often confuses. It’s becoming harder and harder for computer-animated cinema to genuinely stand out with its visuals, but DreamWorks clearly aren’t bothered about even trying.

The Croods narrowly avoids achieving the lowest possible score by having a minuscule, family-friendly heart buried somewhere deep within it. It’s never a film to actively hate, only to become more and more blasé towards and enervated by. Aside from that tiny heart, which can be glimpsed here and there desperately trying to be spotted amongst the haggard humour and predictable plot, there’s really nothing about The Croods worth recommending. Watch Shrek again instead, and remind yourself why you should be so exasperated at DreamWorks’ apparent contentment in becoming the lazy animation studio they now are.

The Croods is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 9th December.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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