The Croods (2013, PG), produced by Dreamworks studios directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, tells the story of a family of Cro-Magnons ("the Croods") who are forced to flee the comforting shelter of their cave in the wake of a series of natural disasters. In the course of their journey the protagonist daughter Eep (Emma Stone) runs in with a more sophisticated homo-sapien, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who will challenge the Cro-Magnon Croods' assumptions about the world and lead them into the next phase of human development. This pits Eep against her father Grug (Nicholas Cage), who desires to stick stubbornly to their old Cro-Magnon ways, epitomized by the slogan "Don't ever not be afraid." Through a series of adventures, Guy, Eep and Grug come to understand one another, and humanity takes another step towards civilization.
Let me say at the outset, I really liked this movie. It was just tremendously entertaining. Situating the protagonists in a prehistoric setting offered lots of opportunity for generous use of exotic color, creative prehistoric animals, and bizarre landscapes, so they visual experience of the film was positive and engaging. There was also a lot of well-done humor; again, choosing to make the protagonists Cro-Magnons offered a lot of opportunity for comedic relief, and this was very frequent and moderated well. It was just a very enjoyable film with enough fast paced stuff to keep you engaged, enough humor to keep you chuckling, and enough drama to tug the heart strings a bit. We sympathize with Eep wanting to press the envelope of her very sheltered life and embrace the more civilized lifestyle of Guy, yet we also have a conservative sympathy for the plight of Grug, who sees his whole way of life slipping away. And the conflict between daughter Eep and father Grug is something we can all identify with, although I must mention that The Croods manages to portray the parent-child conflict in a manner that preserves the respect due to the parents; Eep disagrees with her father, but she never disrespects him, which is important, since too many modern films which attempt to look at this type of conflict end up portraying the conflict in terms of a child actually rebelling against the parent, which is often portrayed in a positive light. Not so in this film.
Now to note some interesting points regarding the theory of evolution and how it is treated in this film. You would think that a movie about Cro-Magnons being led to take "the next step" in human development would have a very pro-evolution bent to it, but ironically this is not the case. Allow me to elaborate.
In the film, Guy is the fully-developed, "modern" homo-sapien. He can think critically. He is possesses the knowledge of fire. He is capable of solving problems in a rational manner. The Croods, especially Grug, respond to things instinctively, do not have knowledge of fire (or shoes, or many other things), and generally solve their problems by running from them or blindly attacking them. The fundamental tension in the film is between these two approaches to life. Yet, though Guy is presumed to be further along the path of evolution than the Croods, the mechanism by which the Croods "evolve" and start to live like homosapiens is not at all evolutionary.
For example, Eep and her mother adopt homo-sapien characteristics by simply observing and mimicking the behavior of Guy. If this transformation could take place by imitation, this suggests that these powers were already latent within the Croods to begin with. I cannot learn math, for example, unless my brain has the latent capacity to understand complex quantitative problems. If my brain did not have this latent ability, no amount of observation or mimicry would compensate; this is why we cannot teach math to a dog, for example. Thus the mechanism by which Eep and her mother "evolve" is not true evolution, but simply education. They are not truly less evolved than Guy; they are simply primitive, uneducated people.
A more interesting development is portrayed in the case of Grug, who is forever suspicious of "ideas" because they are new. "Ideas are for weaklings," he declares. Yet, when he really gets into a pinch, he realizes that he needs to have an idea and tries to think hard to come up with one. We see him banging his head on the wall saying, "Idea! Idea! Need an idea!" Finally, from trying hard enough, an idea eventually emerges into Grug's head, and Grug has taken a monumental leap in human evolution.
The concept that creatures can evolve by "trying hard enough" is called Lamarckian evolution, after Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the scientist who first proposed it in his famous suggestion that giraffes developed their long necks by stretching their necks to get foliage high up in trees. Lamarckian evolution has been universally discredited, as no amount of "trying" on the part of the creature can produce the sort of biological change necessary to truly evolve. Never mind that Grug's concept of trying hard to come up with an idea is itself an idea, demonstrating again that he is already a modern man, just an uneducated one. The mechanism portrayed for how he evolved is thoroughly unscientific.
I know the directors are not trying to teach science. I know they are just having fun. I know no speculation about the mechanism of evolution are intended. But I think it is interesting that when Hollywood takes a stab at even comically trying to portray humans in the act of evolution, they cannot do so.
The movie is good. I actually give it a 3 out of 3. Pick it up if you have a chance. It's kid-friendly, too.
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