The latest from Dreamworks Animation, and if we look at the original concept art from director Chris Sanders below..
… then compare that to the finished article at the head of this page, we see a certain resonance with the title. The story follows the desperate adventure of a family of prehistoric human/squirrel hybrids as they attempt to avoid plummeting into the fiery chasms of molten lava that dog their travels, the result of cataclysmic tectonic activity. Not to worry though, there’s plenty of time to fall in love and invent fire, shoes, and the umbrella along the way, courtesy of the wiry but bright male orphan Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and his affections for the physically stronger, and very much in vogue (and slightly aping ‘Brave’), female cave dweller Eep (Emma Stone), much to the chagrin of her equally meaty father (Nicolas Cage).
It’s a very standard Dreamworks movie, with little of interest for adult viewers but enough constant action and fanciful colours to keep younger audiences entertained. There is a chase sequence for a precious edible egg near the beginning, for example, that seems to last for an eternity as it’s passed from family member to family member via a series of increasingly unlikely measures in order to avoid capture from its mother, whom The Red Dragon’s sympathies were mostly with, and come the end of it one’s attention will almost certainly have wandered naturally away from the film. This pattern is oft repeated, although it gets slightly better as it goes on, and despite the modern day cliché of the romance involved, there is a nice touch when Guy refers to the apple of his eye as being “heavy”, at which she seems genuinely complimented and offers a beaming “Thank you” in return – good to see a children’s animation endorsing a slightly different feminine physique from the status quo of wafer thin princesses.
As with other Dreamworks productions, all the animation was done via computer, and some of the details on the main characters seem a little basic and lacking in finesse. The film also highlights, not for the first time, despite their Shreks and Madagascars, a difference in class level for the company against its much more diverse rivals, Disney, Disney Pixar and Studio Ghibli, not least of all by virtue of the fact director Sanders was the co-director and co-writer of Disney’s ‘Lilo and Stitch’, which The Red Dragon considers one of Disney’s most original and best, and he actually left the company to film this for Dreamworks, although he completed the successful ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ for them first, and he has Kirk De Micco helping, or diluting, his efforts with both direction and the screenplay here on ‘The Croods’. To keep up with its competition Dreamworks really has to make more of an effort to engage the whole family, rather than just its smallest constituent parts, although they have made an interesting strategic move into the Chinese market, with ‘Oriental Dreamworks’ under construction in Shanghai, and their first feature film, ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’, expected to be released in 2016 coinciding with the completion of their ‘Dream Center’ in the city, which will feature a host of shops, theatres, the world’s biggest IMAX screen, and is aimed to rival the likes of Broadway and London’s West End.
Not short on corporate ambition then, though the ‘Dream Center’ will be going head to head with a new Disneyland opening in Shanghai that same year…