Are you planning to go see The Croods in the theater? You’ll love it. My kids are counting the days and I can’t wait for them to see it over spring break. Probably three times.
I had the opportunity to visit DreamWorks Animation Campus in Glendale, California, a few weeks ago and attend an advanced screening. Absolutely, the animation is stellar and engaging, yes it’s gorgeous and fun to watch.
But it was the characters in The Croods that swept me away.
Sitting at a small table over lunch with Head of Character Animation James Baxter and Visual Effects Supervisor Marcus Manninen, a press relations rep walked over and asked, “What did you like best about the film?” My mind was whispering, “Look at who you’re sitting with, woman. Say the faces or the lighting!” but my heart flew through my chest and I blurted, “I fell in love with Grug! I am Grug.”
Grug is the dad of the Croods clan. Voiced by Nicolas Cage, Grug embodied everything that I worry about as a parent. Sure, the other characters were hilarious and endearing, but Grug looked me helplessly in the eye as he struggled to protect his family from growing up and out and all I wanted to do was give him a hug and a hushed, “I feel you, man. These kids are trying to kill us.”
I told the pretty PR lady, “It’s going to be a struggle to not sit with my 8 year old and constantly motion to the screen and say, ‘See? See what you are doing to me? My heart. You are breaking my heart. My heart! That’s me up there!”
The Croods is beautiful. It is laugh-out-loud funny. Your kids are going to do that crazy “Is he peeing his pants?” laughter. The animation alone is astounding. 3D and all that jazz.
But it’s the heart of the movie, the characters, that will stay with you. I want you to see the movie and tell me how you relate to Grug. Pretty much that’s it.
After laying my heart on the lovely courtyard lunch table and basically buttering it in front of the man who freaking animated Belle from Beauty and the Beast, I took a breath and looked at the world-shaping animators that sat beside me, witnessing my parental breakdown. Were we cool?
They smiled and said, “Grug was the hardest one. We were afraid you wouldn’t love him. We’re so happy you feel that way.”
When I tell you about DreamWorks Animation feeling that their story artists are the keepers of the story, this is what I mean. They worry about their characters and what they’ll mean to us, as they should. We trust our hearts to these storytellers for two hours at a time. We trust them not to take advantage of that borrowed time.
In a Q&A with the directors, I decided to go all parental breakdown again just for good measure, asking:
“You took us really close to the edge with Grug whenever he [spoiler scene you'll love]. And I thought I’m going to die now because it was that feeling of please tell me they are going to pull this back together. I really had that feeling of ‘I can’t forgive them, I can’t, please don’t go so far.’ How do you know how to pull back so you don’t push us so far over the edge, as parents watching the movie? But how do you gauge that?”
Director Chris Sanders rolled with my breakdown-that-probably-had-more-to-do-with-my-own-kids-growing-up,
“We watched these [scenes] many, many times. That bit with Grug at [totally awesome spoiler scene] and being willing to risk that and him learning that that’s something that’s just gonna have to happen, it’s going to happen whether he likes it or not, that’s probably one of the oldest ideas in the movie. The point was him learning.
So, I think the main thing is we listen to the story first. When we come to a really tough place like that, should he or shouldn’t he [try to kill Megan through this heart-breaking spoiler], the story will give you the answer. We have to listen to that.”
If you can look away from the screen, you’ll want to watch your kids watch The Croods.
Then give Grug a hug for me.
The Croods is in theaters now. Go see it. Take your kids and then tell me what you think.
Follow @DWAnimation on twitter and join #TheCroods conversation
Thank you again to 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation for providing the trip to the DreamWorks Animation Campus.
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