Every once in a proverbial blue moon I see a film where the father role is interesting or realistic, instead of us dads being perpetually portrayed as buffoons or the extra child in the family dynamic. Have I mentioned recently how much I hate that and how I hate that it’s just accepted in society that boys rarely transition to manhood and when they do, babies push them back down the evolutionary ladder?
Now to be fair, I’ll also say that there are some men, some dads, who are completely chowderheads, to put it very politely, guys who are insecure and therefore super controlling, even when their ex says “leave me alone” and even when the courts end up involved. But there are messed up moms too, so the karma might be somewhat balanced overall in this area.
Still, a movie that has a functional family and a healthy dynamic between parents, where the mom and dad aren’t perfect, disagree, but where the dad is honored for being the head of his particular family even as he has to come to terms with change, that’s something rare indeed.
Indeed, the very theme of The Croods is evolution. Not evolution of individual people, per se, though father Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) appears to be a Cro-Magnon, while his children, notably spunky daughter Eep (Emma Stone), have more in common physically with us Homo Sapiens, but rather the evolution of ideas, of belief systems, of what it means to be the leader of the family.
The film starts with Grug sharing his personal philosophy with the family (including wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), rather dim witted son Thunk (Clark Duke) and feisty grandma Gran (an amusing Cloris Leachman). “Fear is good. Change is bad. Try new things. Die.”
But the world is indeed changing around them, change not just from within the family unit — as every parent knows, families never stay still but grow, change and evolve as each child goes through their many developmental phases from newborn to adult — but from without when Eep violates the family custom of hiding in a cave during the darkness and meets the more evolutionarily advanced Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Guy has discovered fire, invented shoes and generally shakes things up with his new thinking and ideas.
Oh, and he’s instantly enamored of Eep and she of him. Of course. So Grug is put into a position that all of us dads end up having to face at some point with our daughters: wrestling with wanting to protect them, fearing change, and yet eager to see them step into their adult lives and hoping that we’ve taught them sufficiently well that they’ll make smart decisions and be safe as they go through what is unquestionably one of the most difficult periods of childhood.
So what’s Grug to do? Embrace Guy and watch his girl flaunt all of his beliefs, everything he’s tried to teach her about the dangers of the world around them and the need to play it safe to ensure you make it to the next sunrise? Or reject him and possessively protect Eep while trying to learn from these astonishing new ideas that Guy shares with his family, ideas that question the very foundations of his philosophical beliefs?
I won’t go further into the film, but I will instead encourage you to watch it with your own children and use it to perhaps springboard into a conversation about change and risk versus safety and caution. And enjoy it: The Croods is inventive and visually gorgeous, and while there’s a bit of tension in the first 5-10 minutes for the young ‘uns, all three of my children and I greatly enjoyed it and laughed heartily at many scenes, particularly later in the film.