A week removed from watching The Croods and it’s hard to remember
anything about it at all. My experience at the theater proved markedly more
resonate than anything the picture itself had to offer. For example, a couple
sought refuge sitting next to me and my girlfriend as we were the only other
people in the theater to not be accompanied by children. And then there was the
heckling child behind us, offering boisterous laughs that were more guttural
and deep than anything I’ve heard before. But there was the film too: a
pleasant if not entirely forgettable effort that only underscores the
significant fall from grace animation has taken over the past few years.
The Croods is DreamWorks Animations’ 26th film released since they opened their studio doors in 1998. The number two animation studio in the world (trailing Pixar), DreamWorks Animation propagates a particularly annoying trend in animated films. From small-time independent to massive animation houses, there are at least attempts to present material on something of an even keel for both children and adults. Thematically and narratively speaking, what films like The Croods inspire are a hodgepodge of images presented in a perpetually pleasing though unmemorable fashion. Take the film’s opening chase sequence. Pleasing to the eye and perpetually moving forward, the sequence contradicts the film’s central narrative conceit of conveying a tumultuous familial setting. It’s an exciting sequence and technically proficient, though counterintuitive to the film’s thematic intent.
Of course, I could just be considered something of a grouch for yearning for thematic competency in my animated films geared specifically toward children. But even DreamWorks has shown signs of understanding and implementing a measure of thematic elegance in some of their films, most notably their debut feature Antz and How to Train Your Dragon. Yet there’s precedence for much of this criticism. When Pixar or Studio Ghibli produce less than stellar works, they’re immediately compared to something that DreamWorks would produce. Their glaringly obvious commercial intent jeopardizes much of their work with The Croods fulfilling a sort of focus-group approved approach. With characters and situations of thin and obvious complexities, there isn’t anything particularly memorable or rewarding about watching their endeavors. And with an ending geared toward the fulfilling contractual obligations for a sequel, The Croods and DreamWorks Animation present the perpetual quandary found in Hollywood cinema –the throes of achieving commercial success have essentially made art and business mutually exclusive terms.