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The Croods: Riley Goes Off on Pixar

By Riley Webster · March 24, 2013

 I'm going to try and promise all of you that I won't turn this review of The Croods into one of my infamous "I Hate Pixar" rants. But let it be known that, as shocking as that sounds, I really do hate Pixar. They get all the glory for their mediocre products, while Dreamworks Animation sits in the corner, getting almost no kudos, yet often creating far superior animated films. I love Dreamworks, always have. The mantra I use with them is that Pixar creates movies that make adults feel like kids, and Dreamworks creates movies that make kids feel like adults. As a child growing up, I can sure tell you I preferred the latter; and now that I'm an adult, I still do, despite apparently the entire world disagreeing with me.

Ok….already I'm breaking my promise, so let’s get to the review. The Croods is a lovely film, filled with heart, adventure, romance, excitement, gloriously colorful animation, and an ending that got me all choked up. It doesn't reach the heights of cinematic brilliance that writer/director Chris Sanders' earlier Dreamworks film did (How to Train Your Dragon), but it far surpasses anything that's come out of Pixar in…well…years. Or ever.

Dang it! There I go again! How come people can't discuss Dreamworks Animation without comparing them to Pixar? And how come every time that comparison arises amongst critics and most movie-goers, they always give the edge to Pixar? Every time two of their movies have been released against each other (save one example), Dreamworks created the far more intelligent, original, and creative movie. Antz was insanely more mature and developed than Bug's Life. Monsters Inc had nothing on Shrek. And, yes, How to Train Your Dragon was far and away a better film than Toy Story 3.

Sigh. Ok, back on track. The Croods stars the vocal talents of Nicholas Cage and Emma Stone as members of a cave man family that never venture outside their cave in fear of death, until one day the world starts shifting and they're forced into a series of comedic and magical adventures. Story wise, it's not the most original thing to ever emerge from Dreamworks, true. And the dialogue is frequently forced, and the comedy often strained. And hell, just to show I'm not completely biased, the middle section lags, and the plot often just becomes "go here, action scene happens, go over here, action scene happens, etc."

So the screenplay's not perfect. But much like my last review for Upside Down, The Croods overcame the script's shortcomings, for me, by being just a visually beautiful film—the jungle atmosphere, the fascinating creatures, the way the camera flies around with an exuberant freedom….I mean, it just looks terrific, even in the overrated medium of 3D. And while the family dynamics are often too slapstick-y, the basic romance between Stone's character and a new explorer is very well done. And her eventual resolution with her father brought tears to my eyes.

But none of this matters. People are still going to go see this and say "It was Ok, but it sure wasn't Pixar." I love hearing people explain what makes Pixar so great. They'll say "Well, Finding Nemo was a beautiful story, and Incredibles had sharp satire, and Ratatouille was really mature [barf]" and so on. But then I point to Dragon, or Megamind, or Over the Hedge, and I say…there's beauty. There's satire. There's maturity. And all of it was done with more wit, panache, and humor—and you probably didn't go see it!

I knew this review would balloon out of proportion like this. It's a subject I'm very passionate about—the fact that Dreamworks' last film, Rise of the Guardians, miserably tanked despite being the best animated flick of the year only rubbed salt in the wound for me. Croods will probably do very well but I wouldn't be surprised if Dreamworks Animation is long gone in a decade or two, which would be a terrible shame. Trust me folks, I get it—the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar sequels were all horrible. I'll grant you that. But the artfulness of Dreamworks has yet to be surpassed by any company in production today.

And case in point are some of the terrible films Pixar has released. What in the dancing Moses was Cars 2??? Did anyone in the world, young or old, actually sit through Brave and think: "What a clever story. That was really well done?" Brave didn't even HAVE a script—it was literally "Magic thing happens, let's leave the castle, ok maybe let's go back, all right let's leave again, oh story's done yippee!" Hell, I'll go one further and say that Pixar's only made one truly great film that was full of originality and emotion that DIDN'T dissolve into endless zany action scenes (sorry, WALL-E), and that was Up. Great flick. But not any better than The Croods.

I apologize for this review. It's just about my most unprofessional one yet. I wanted to talk about how exciting The Croods was, how the opening scene where they fought wild animals for an egg was almost Buster Keaton-like, or how the final 15 minutes moved me more than anything in Lincoln or Argo. I wanted to say that the movie is a wonderfully enjoyable family film, one that both kids and grandparents and everyone in between will have fun with. But I just couldn't get past Pixar. It makes all the money and critical acclaim and Oscars in the world, but then there's poor Dreamworks, standing by itself, hoping someone will ask them to dance.