THE CROODS – Blu-ray review

Dreamworks Animation has really been pushing Pixar lately, and they’ve done it again with “The Croods.” There are eye-popping allusions to “Avatar” and jaw-dropping sequences of cataclysmic clouds of rubble that rival any of the animation we’ve seen recently. Watching in HD especially, you come away from this caveman comedy feeling slightly awestruck by the visuals.

Pixar still leads in the department of narrative invention, though, as “The Croods” tells a familiar story of a teenage girl who wants to “break out” and lead a life apart from the cocoon-like existence her father has designed. When a boy her age comes into the picture, Dad responds to the threat with all the warmth of a saber-toothed tiger who has a thorn in his paw. His little girl is HIS little girl, and he’s not about to let that change.

But change is on the menu in “The Croods,” which is set in a fictional Pliocene era known as the “Croodaceous” period—a transitional time in the history of the earth when flaming asteroid showers, erupting volcanoes, and shifting geological planes tear the earth apart and thrust mountain ranges high above what used to be an ocean floor. And humans are ready to take a big step forward in the evolutionary chain.

Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) is a big, burly Neanderthal of a man with all brawn and no brains. He sees every change as a threat, and any unfamiliar sight or sound as a threat big enough to send them all back to the family cave, where they spend most of their time . . . for safety. His daughter, Eep (Emma Stone) is adventurous and wants something more. This isn’t living, she says. What’s the point? And so a quality-of-life theme emerges, with Eep determined to follow the sun and escape the perpetual darkness (and a little too much family closeness) of the cave she shares with her big dumb brother, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), her mother, Ugga (Catherine Keener), wild baby sibling Sandy (Randy Thom), and her feisty Gran (Cloris Leachman).

Enter Thunk (Clark Duke), a teenage orphan who’s full of ideas . . . like fire to cook and keep warm with, sea shell horns to communicate with, and the conviction that there’s always a new and better way. Naturally he and Eep hit it off, and that makes Grug hit the ceiling, whether he’s inside the cave or not.

When their cave is destroyed, exposing a lush, tropical world that was behind them all along, the family ventures out. But the planet’s volatility catches up with them. There’s a lot of being chased and avoiding danger in “The Croods,” which is great for animators and young viewers, but can become a little been-there-done-that for more savvy audiences. Thankfully the art direction, set decoration, and animation are enough to entertain until we get more interesting scenes that show character development, or the kinds of character interaction that range from humor to antagonism to “awww” moments. And the payoff? It’s not crude at all.

“The Croods” is rated PG for “some scary action.”

What a gorgeous looking video presentation! The special effects in this animated film are nothing short of incredible. When a mountain range crumbles, what emerges is a cloud of black smoke that moves with realistic ferocity. And those flaming asteroids and lush tropical plants and creatures of all colors look just as impressive. Even when the palette is mostly browns or greys, the level of detail and quality of animation is superb. “The Croods” is one of the best-looking Blu-rays I’ve seen this year, and for that you can thank the way it was produced, but also a flawless AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50 GB disc. “The Croods” is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

The audio is just as impressive . . . or should I say, immersive. The English DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround really puts you in the picture. The sound is constantly directional, constantly moving in ways that reinforce the “reality” of the film. The earth cracks and fissures with sounds that make you convinced it’s all possible, and dialogue is prioritized so that voices are never totally drowned out. The bass has the kind of presence you’d expect for a film about cataclysmic events, but even the quieter moments of dialogue come across with presence and clarity. Additional audio options are English SDH, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles also in those three options.

There’s not a flood of bonus features, though. All we get is an “interactive” overview of some of the creatures in the film that collectively run just under six minutes—though time is wasted waiting for each clip to load. In “Belt’s Cave Journal” (6 min.), Guy walks us through another history with more animation, and would-be artists will enjoy supervising animator Sean Sexton’s lessons on how to draw Belt, Macawnivore, and Mousephant. The pace is slow enough for the lessons to actually be followed, and collectively they run 35 minutes. Other than that, all we get are four deleted scenes (with introductions by Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco) that run five minutes long, the theatrical trailer, and previews. If you’re wondering if the 3D version has more extras, the answer is “no.”

This combo pack includes a DVD and UV copy as well.

Bottom line:
Count me among those who saw the trailer and thought “The Croods” a good pun but little else. The first act may be a little slow, but once this animated comedy gets rolling, it’s a rollicking good family movie. No wonder there’s already a TV series and a sequel in development.