I don’t suppose I have too much to say this week beyond, of course, Merry Christmas.
I hope you have a good holiday season this year, even if it may be a little, or a lot different than usual.
Anyway, that’s about all the yuletide cheer a grinch like me can muster.
As far as movies go, this time around I had the chance to see a new animated film from Dreamworks, plus a disaster movie starring Gerard Butler.
So without any further ado, let’s get straight to the reviews.
First up is “The Croods: A New Age.”
Searching for a safer habitat, the prehistoric Crood family (Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, and Clark Duke) discovers an idyllic, walled-in paradise that meets all of its needs. Unfortunately, they must also learn to live with the Bettermans (Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann, and Kelly Marie Tran), a family that’s a couple of steps above the Croods on the evolutionary ladder.
As tensions between the new neighbors start to rise, a new threat soon propels both clans on an epic adventure that forces them to embrace their differences, draw strength from one another, and survive together.
It’s nice to see Dreamworks getting back into the business of making movies on a regular basis.
For a while there it seemed like everything at Dreamworks was either on hold or in limbo. But I guess that’s to be expected with a big company shakeup, as I’m sure happened after NBCUniversal acquired the animation studio back in 2016.
Even sure fire successes, like the final “How to Train Your Dragon” movie, ended up being pushed back year after year, until there was nearly a five year gap between the release of the second and third film of the series.
And our Cro-Magnon clan, the Croods, had it even worse. Their original film came out all the way back in 2013, and Dreamworks is just now releasing a sequel. That’s a surprisingly sizable seven year gap.
With so much time in between movies, it can be difficult to get audiences interested in coming back for more. This is especially the case of a kids movie, where a good portion of your target audience has become teenagers in the time it took to release a follow-up.
And maybe I’m just out of touch, but I don’t remember “The Croods” leaving that much of a cultural impact, unlike many of Dreamwork’s other properties, like “Shrek,” or even “Trolls.”
Perhaps it’s just because I only watched the first movie recently. I don’t know.
After hearing basically nothing about “The Croods” over the past seven years, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it though.
The narrative may have been a little too conventional for my taste, and the comedy may have been a bit of a mixed bag, but the animation was great and the voice cast was dang near perfect.
And fortunately for fans of the first film, few though there may be, “The Croods: A New Age” is very much more of the same. Actually, to be honest, I think I enjoyed the sequel even more than the original.
All the characters from the first film are back of course.
You have Nicolas Cage as the cave family’s overprotective patriarch. Emma Stone as Eep, the eldest child of the family. She’s romantically involved with Guy, played by Ryan Reynolds.
Beyond that there’s Ugga (Catherine Keener), the sensible yet still slightly brutish mother, Thunk (Clark Duke), their knucklehead son, Ugga’s insane mother Gran (Cloris Leachman), and Sandy the baby, who’s more a wild animal than an actual character.
In this film they run into another family called the Bettermans, which consist of Phil (Peter Dinklage), Hope (Leslie Mann), and their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran).
Basically, the Bettermans are a modern day family, living a more agrarian lifestyle. This is, of course, in stark contrast to the hunter-gather ways of the Croods.
This leads to a lot of tension between the families, since the Croods aren’t accustomed to concepts like sleeping separately or bathing. Then there’s also the fact that Phil and Hope want to set their daughter up with Guy even though he’s already in a relationship with Eep.
You might think this would lead to some kind of awkward love triangle between Eep, Guy, and Dawn. I was worried the movie would go down this path as well. Mostly because I hate love triangles.
I think they’re overused, frustrating, and it’s just flat out annoying to see characters you like tear each other apart over petty romantic nonsense.
Fortunately for me, this film avoids the love triangle trap all together with one simple trick. Dawn isn’t interested in Guy romantically, or really anyone for that matter.
Instead, Dawn and Eep end up bonding as good friends, with Eep helping Dawn to break out of her shell and giving her a taste of the outside world.
Frankly, it’s refreshing to see a story like this, where the girls aren’t pitted against each other over some guy.
My favorite parts of the movie were just watching Eep and Dawn’s unbridled eagerness whenever the two of them are together.
Their enthusiasm is infectious, which is thanks in no small part to the voice talent behind these two young women.
Emma and Kelly seemed like they’re having so much fun with these characters. They just don’t hold anything back, to the point where they almost sounded sarcastic. This might not have worked well with a more serious movie, but it’s a silly animated film about cavepeople. Let them go nuts I say.
It’s the same pretty much all the other characters too, especially Nicolas Cage, who couldn’t have been better casted as Grug.
Honestly, I think it’s a travesty that Cage hasn’t found his way in more animated roles over the years. His innate intensity meshes ridiculously well with a cartoon character and I’m so glad he was able to voice Grug once again.
That’s what I enjoyed so much about the first film, and why I like this movie even more. The voice actors just sound like they’re having the time of their lives with these characters.
Of course a large part of why the performances here work so well is the animation itself.
One of my bigger complaints about other animated films more recently has been with lackluster facial animation. For example, “Over the Moon” from earlier this year.
These more inexperienced animation outfits may be able to create scenes with beautiful backdrops and stunning scenery, but when it comes to faces, the soul of the characters they’re creating, their efforts simply fall short.
Not here though.
The faces of the Croods and the Bettermans are just as animated and lively as the voices of their real life counterparts sound.
And the fantastic animation doesn’t stop with the human characters.
The locations and the creatures which inhabit this incredibly colorful vision of the prehistoric era are just flat out gorgeous, not to mention incredibly imaginative.
Don’t come looking to this film for historical or evolutionary accuracy. The animals here are wild combinations which seem concocted from a fever dream. Again, this is a silly cartoon about cavepeople, so I’m not going to complain about the wild creature design.
What I might complain about though is the story and the comedy.
Listen, it’s not a terrible narrative, but much like the first film, it treads a lot of familiar ground.
It may avoid some annoying pitfalls, like a dang love triangle, but it still doesn’t stray far from what you might expect from a story about two vastly different families learning to get along.
Plus, there isn’t really any depth like you might expect from a similar animated movie from Disney or Pixar.
The humor here is also a bit of a mixed bag, much like the first film.
A good portion of the jokes revolve around the characters saying or doing things that may make sense in a modern day context, but are flat out silly coming from cave people.
For instance, Thunk discovers a window inside the Betterman’s home and becomes obsessed with watching “window” like someone might be addicted to watching TV. That’s the entire joke, and it’s basically all his character does the entire film. That bit of comedy got run into the ground pretty quickly.
That isn’t to say there aren’t a few laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout the film, but those bits of comedy come less from the writing and more from the performances of the actors themselves.
I don’t want to be too negative here, because I really did have a genuinely fun time watching this movie.
There’s a lot here to love for animation lovers young and old.
The writing may fall a little short, but the characters, the animation, and especially the voice acting are enough to earn this film a solid recommendation. As far as kids movies go this year, this is certainly one of the better ones.
“The Croods: A New Age” is rated PG and is available to rent on video-on-demand for $19.99.
The other movie this week is “Greenland.”
John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his estranged wife (Morena Baccarin), and their young son (Roger Dale Floyd) embark on a perilous journey to find sanctuary as a planet-killing comet hurtles toward Earth.
Amid terrifying accounts of cities getting leveled, the Garrity’s experience the best and worst in humanity all while the countdown to the global apocalypse approaches zero.
Ah, the disaster movie.
It seemed like during the late 90s and early 2000s that there was a new movie featuring an impending apocalypse released every few months.
Heck, Roland Emmerich practically made a career of it, producing films such as “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and of course his most recent movie to destroy the earth, “2012.”
And who could forget the films about an impending planet-annihilating comet or asteroid like “Deep Impact” or Michael Bay’s “Armageddon.”
It’s an odd fascination people have, wanting to see what the end of the world might look like. It’s a curiosity I share with many.
Most of the time though, these disaster films are just as much about showing humanity’s response to the incoming cataclysm as they are about seeing the catastrophe itself unfold.
In fact, a lot of the time, the greatest obstacle for our main characters isn’t the impending disaster itself, but other people fighting for their own survival.
This is more where “Greenland” focuses. And refreshingly, its portrayal of humanity as a whole is actually what sets the film apart the most.
The people the Garrity family face along their journey for survival are, for the large part, morally good.
Yes, there are a few notable exceptions. Some here do act in selfish desperation.
But when push comes to shove, the people in this film do what they can to help each other. Even while facing the unavoidable end of everything they know and love.
Perhaps it’s unrealistic, and maybe it’s naive of me to think that people would actually behave so selflessly during such dire circumstances. But it is how I wish humanity would act. It’s definitely how I hope I would act when looking upon my own impending mortality.
As far as the narrative in this film goes, it is nice to see a disaster movie that has a more narrow focus.
Instead of 30 different main characters, like a Roland Emmerich film, this film has three.
Three perspectives at most. And none of these characters are involved in predicting Armageddon, or even trying to solve it. They’re just trying to live through it.
I also like that there’s less of a focus on watching famous landmarks being destroyed in this film.
Sure, you see some here and there, especially at the end. But mostly what we see is what our three main characters are capable of experiencing.
We see news reports, some video recordings, and feel the shockwaves of some far away explosions, but the film never dwells on the destruction.
In that way, the movie ends up feeling a bit more realistic. It’s like we’re watching the end of the world from a ground level perspective.
Now of course this is still a disaster movie. The story here plays out in much the same way as you might expect, with plenty of silliness and over dramatic moments along the way.
And sadly, the story does also suffer a little bit in the film’s latter half.
Towards the end, John’s father-in-law (Scott Glenn) shows up with very little introduction, yet the movie tries to focus many of its most emotional moments surrounding his character.
It’s strange. It almost feels like there was originally supposed to be more scenes early featuring the father-in-law, but for whatever reason they didn’t make the final cut.
The narrative acts like Glenn’s character was supposed to be the emotional core of the film. Like John was striving for his father-in-law’s approval the whole time, but the audience isn’t shown a hint of this relationship until the film is almost over.
Because of that, the scenes with the father-in-law just completely fall flat. Honestly, if the movie couldn’t dedicate more time to his character, I think the story would have been better off with Glenn’s role removed entirely.
It’s a shame, because beyond that one notable failing, “Greenland” is a surprisingly solid moviegoing experience.
Heck, it’s probably Gerry Butler’s best live action role in over a decade.
Bottomline, if you’re looking for a disaster movie with non-stop wanton destruction, you’re probably better off putting on something like Roland Emmerich’s “2012.”
But if you’re interested in something a bit more grounded, a bit more low-key, at least as far as movies featuring an apocalypse go, then I’d say this movie is definitely worth a rental. Just wait a few months for the price to drop a little.
“Greenland” is rated PG-13 and is available to rent on video-on-demand for $19.99.
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