Although it's early to start handing out awards for best animated, consider this week's Blu-ray release of THE CROODS as a strong candidate.
As we mentioned in our year-end article, 2012 brought us several terrific films throughout the year, including several; animated ones that made it to this year's Oscars. Bolstered by long lines and positive reviews, animated films are enjoying a resurgence among filmgoers. Dreamworks' THE CROODS is an impressive adventure about cavemen and the coming of the New World. Its arrival onto Blu-ray this week looks and sounds amazing, with only a decent supply of supplements.
The Movie - 4/5
Eep Crood (voiced by Emma Stone) is a prehistoric cavewoman who wants more than the dull and defensive existence she and her family have been provided by her father Grug (voiced by Nicholas Cage). According to him, cave people should hide from larger animals, stay indoors at night, and generally be prepared to live in fear for the majority of their lives. Grug doesn't like 'new things' as he calls it, because it's led to the deaths of several neighbors; he's more content to stay locked up in his cave, much to the disappointment of the adventurous but bored Eep. Grug's wife Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener), her mother (voiced by Cloris Leachman), daughter Sandy, and son Thunk (Clark Duke) are mesmerized as Grugg tells one cautionary tale after another, ending each story with a red splat from his hand signifying the death of yet another troublemaker. But when the newcomer Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) arrives carrying the new discovery fire with him - as well as omen of destruction - Eep and her family are forced to set out across the newly-formed continent, while their old one is swept away during a cataclysmic event. Guy is convinced that a place he calls 'tomorrow' is just a tall mountain away, and the enamored Eep is more than willing to follow. But danger and hilarious antics are no doubt to follow as the Croods's loyalties to Grugg will be tested from everything to using fire, to wearing Guy's new invention of shoes, to working with their larger animal enemies to survive the impending shift of the land masses.
Co-written and co-directed by Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch) and Kirk DeMicco, The Croods displays familiar themes of family and duty from Pixar's Brave but adds more humor, warmth, and action to things. The story has plenty of laugh-out-loud one-liners, but it's superseded by a tone made for a more mature teen audience. The idea of a family being forced from their home is nothing new (see: Ice Age) but when it's utterly smashed from an earthquake as it's done here, with hand paintings shattered and their 'neighborhood' dismantled, we see this new tone emerge from Dreamworks that's also appealing for adults but could be tough on smaller kids. Our voice actors do much to bring depth to their characters, rather than simply reading from a script with no apparent idea of the scene they're actually doing (see Wreck it Ralph). Reynolds and Cage lead the way here - their banter is funny and perfectly balanced as Grugg fights the coming changes which represent nothing less than an end to his perfectly-ordered world.
Composer Alan Silvestri (The Avengers) creates a beautiful score that mixes Avengers-style marches with more tender pieces that I believe takes his work to a new level. Like Silvestri, Dreamworks has improved their animation immensely with The Croods, creating a sumptuous environment that looks better than Oz The Great and Powerful and is frankly more inventive than Jack the Giant Slayer. It looked fabulous in 3D, with hair, clothing, and the physical environment almost resembling reality. Although I expect it to be an amazing experience at home, don't wait.
The Croods underwent many production delays in 2012 before finally arriving to theaters earlier this year. In some ways that's a blessing, as it might be have been quickly forgotten with terrific fare like Hotel Transylvania, Frankenweenie, Rise of the Guardians, and Ice Age had it been released last year. The Croods is a terrific early entry, further proving that Disney and Pixar have legitimate competition close on their heels. That's good for fans of animation, as this one will reward you with a strong script and stunning animation.
The Video - 5/5
The Croods is presented in a stunning MPEG-4/AVC transfer that looks so good and so realistic that viewers might think they're watching live action in some scenes. To say some of these look photo-realistic is not going too far, for the 20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Blu-ray offers details that are truly dazzling. Clarity is always the name of the game in animation, and The Croods excels at representing fur on clothing, details in trees and water, and human emotions and characteristics such as facial hair. Then there's the environment, filled with a beautiful array of desert terrain, deadly animals, and lush vegetation. Colors are also brilliant without becoming cartoon-like or spilling over the crisp lines and other features which our animators imagined. Shadows and blacks also play together nicely, especially in early scenes at Eep's cave home. There, we see shadows descend into black, much like a real cave would, but providing plenty of detail along the way. Transfers like these can look good on just about any platform, and animated films in general have always looked good on Blu-ray, but The Croods has to be an instant favorite for those of us who appreciate the time which studios like Fox spend in bringing these to the home market. The result is simply amazing.
The Audio - 5/5
The Croods features a powerful but precise DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack that is amazing for more than just its sound. For an animated film to receive the coveted 7.1 treatment is another testament to Fox's dedication to the animated genre, and everything about its lossless production stands out. Starting with the front speakers, we get a mix of music, dialogue, and sound effects, each never upstaging the other, with the dialogue in general standing out here. There's good phasing as prehistoric birds fly from left to right, and water flows across the soundfield. The center channel presents separated dialogue that is always clear and never requires the listener to play The Remote Game between action sequences. But it's the surround speakers which bring home the bacon, wrapping the listener in a cacophony of animal noises, wind, and other atmospheric effects. At their best, surround speakers tell the smaller details of a story, giving us those bits of data that the front speakers don't have time to deliver. Again, Fox delivers on this with faultless perfection, including the subwoofer, which pounds, growls, and thumps its way through the film. There appears to be few times in which the low end isn't clearly represented, a fact which seems part and parcel of 7.1 environments, and here we see it on parade in various forms. Silvestri's soundtrack shines throughout the film, as most film scores should, and the LFE gets involved early and often. Once again, credit goes out to Fox for achieving such a terrific audio experience, which is reference-grade from start to finish.
The Supplements - 2.5/5
Sadly, the supplements on The Croods fail to excite, sacrificing behind-the-scenes for family-friendly and reaping few rewards for doing so. I prefer director's commentary as opposed to flashy advertisements for other titles which are unfortunately here. At least all of the features are presented in HD:
The Croodaceous Creatures of Croods: Two of the films characters join audiences to teach about the various creatures in the film. There's graphics, voices, and animated drawings from the film.
Belt's Cave Journal (6:15): Guy introduces his friend Belt.
Croods' Cuts (Lost Scenes): Our Directors/Writers team of Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders introduce several deleted scenes, including Crazy Grug (2:36), It's Rain (3:08), It's a Great Cave (1:09), and Termites (1:15). We learn why some scenes were never completed, or removed from the final cut.
Be An Artist: Supervising Animator Sean Sexton introduces us to the process of bringing several of the characters from the film to life. Included are Belt (12:00), Macawnivore (15:22), and Mousephant (7:45).
The Croods Theatrical Trailer (2:11)
Sneak Peek: Previews for Turbo, Shrek the Musical, Epic, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.
World of DreamWorks Animation: Ads for Shrek, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda.
Our evaluation copy arrived as a Blu-ray Combo pack, complete with a Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy. The embossed slipcase is attractive, and an exclusive plush toy pack was offered in some versions.
The Bottom Line - 4/5
The Croods offers a highly entertaining experience even if its somewhat predictable survival plot is easily discerned. Forget that: it's warm and funny and will be endearing to youngsters and very watchable for adults. The Fox/DreamWorks' Blu-ray delivers awesome picture and sound qualities, even if the supplements disappoint. I hope the MPAA remembers this one, as it still sits atop my favorite animated movies of the year. The Croods is rated PG, has a runtime of 98 minutes, and comes highly recommended.
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