With today’s release of the caveman cartoon comedy “The Croods,” DreamWorks Animation has doubled the feature film output of rival “Pixar.” For those keeping score, it’s now 26 to 13 in favor of the studio that “Shrek” built.
That’s no slouch of a milestone and almost tops the one DreamWorks Animation reached a few years ago when it unseated Pixar as the all-time box office champ when it comes to CGI features. The “Shrek” film franchise, alone, has made $3.5 billion worldwide, and you can tally another $1.9 billion from the three “Madagascar” movies and $1.2 billion from just two “Kung Fu Panda” pictures.
We’ll get to the review of “The Croods” in a minute, and where Intel fits into all of this a bit later, but first the “but.” While the talented folks at DreamWorks Animation have succeeded in getting the civilized world to side with a giant green ogre and cross fingers for lost, misfit zoo animals and root for a fat and lazy panda, none of the studio’s features can hold a computer-drawn candle to the stories that make Pixar movies magical. Oh, they’re funny and exciting, all right — many times even more so than what the rival puts out under the Disney banner. But what Pixar’s movies have that those from DreamWorks and the other big studios seem to lack are heart and smarts — the stuff that makes a film endearing and everlasting, and makes the sentimental cry. Call me soft if you must, but nine of Pixar’s baker’s dozen have caused me soggy eyeballs. When Sully reunites with Boo at the end of “Monsters, Inc.” I bawled like a baby. The tender and wordless montage in “Up?” Serious Kleenex time. And don’t even get me started on the second-to-last scene in “Toy Story 3.” DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon” came close to activating my waterworks. I’m a sucker for injured mythical creatures.
With “The Croods” (rated PG), a prehistoric comedy adventure that follows the supposed last surviving family of their era, tears of laughter are sought much more than the other kind. Yeah, there’s a father-daughter bonding moment at the end (spoiler alert!), but 97 1/2 of the movie’s 98 minutes are devoted to slapstick and 3-D eye candy. Thank goodness for the eye candy.
In this “Flintstones” meets “Avatar” (apologies to Hanna-Barbera and James Cameron), belly laughs are at a premium. I counted two: the scenes when the Croods are introduced to fire and footwear by Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a more advanced human who after a meet-cute charms Eep (Emma Stone), the bored, rebellious daughter of Grug (a miscast Nicolas Cage). The brutish patriarch believes there’s danger in anything new, Guy included. Grug’s cautious ways have kept the family alive, but as Eep says, this isn’t living, it’s just not dying.
After an earthquake destroys their cave, Eep gets her wish to see the world, or at least the part that gets them to safer ground as the Earth begins to shift. Wish I could say that getting there is half the fun. Wit doesn’t exactly ooze from the thin story and even thinner characters that lack originality. The littlest Crood, Sandy, is the spitting image of Darla, the dentist’s daughter in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.” Gran, voiced by Cloris Leachman, is the same crabby-sassy old mother-in-law seen in movies from “National Lampoon’s Vacation” to “The Grown-Ups.” Thunk (“The Office’s” Clark Duke) is the idiot son who does yield a laugh when he teaches his new pet to roll over, unfortunately, over a cliff.
Where this Stone Age picture rocks is in the graphics, and no Pixar movie comes close in this department. The other-worldly plant life is a feast for the 3-D glasses-enhanced eyes. So is the non-stop parade of Seuss-on-acid creatures (piranha-owls, mousephants and turkeyfish, really?). The billowing smoke and blanketing clouds that dramatically bring this otherwise middling movie to a close are flat-out arresting.
Helping DreamWorks Animation and its latest movie look good is Intel, a strategic partner of the studio since 2009’s “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Intel provides high-performance desktop workstations and server blades powered by the company’s latest multi-core processors. Cloud computing also is a critical component to the studio providing a robust, scalable infrastructure for rendering multiple CG films in production. In fact, “The Croods,” comprised of over 400 million data files, relied on Intel processing power to provide 12 percent of the film’s cloud computing needs.
Clearly, Intel was pivotal to DreamWorks Animation challenging the technical status quo with “The Croods.” Maybe with the snail-centered comedy “Turbo,” due out this summer, the studio will advance the genre of computer animation in other ways.
2 1/2 Stars (out of 5)