Everything (Prehistoric) Is New Again
While the characters, family dynamics, and action take center stage, the filmmakers envelop the Croods in a landscape that however wondrous and exotic, is always relatable. A pre-production excursion to Zion National Park in Utah inspired the creation of environments (in the film's first act) that are very much of our planet, but at the same time intriguingly unexpected.
"THE CROODS is accessible because it takes place in a world not unlike the one we inhabit now," says Ryan Reynolds. "But at the same time the film takes us on a journey that's vibrant and often breathtaking. It offers so much for the eyes to process. And that's why THE CROODS can be experienced again and again; you discover something new with each viewing."
The Croods' universe includes a menagerie of creatures that pose additional challenges to the family during their trek. When we meet the Croods, they're barely getting by, but at least they understand their current life-or-death challenges. As they journey to this new land, almost nothing is familiar to them, including the strange beasts, some of which present unexpected if sometimes comical dangers:
"The idea behind the creatures was that the Croods live in what we call 'Mother Nature's R&D period,' which means Earth is basically experimenting with various life forms," says Belson. "Some will evolve into creatures we recognize today; others won't. Which was probably for the best!"
- The Bear Owl, a mix of bear and owl, sleeps during the day and prowls the canyon at night.
- The Macawnivore has the body of a huge tiger, an over-sized head and the colorization of a Macaw Parrot. It's an imposing creature who towers over the Croods. He pursues the Croods, with a particular focus on Grug, throughout their journey.
- As their name suggest, the Punch Monkeys pack quite a wallop. They're fun and charming, until they feel threatened, at which point they become, in effect, one big punching machine. (A scene in which Grug serves as punching bag to the giant-pawed monkeys is an audience favorite, though it was a relatively late addition to the film. "From the earliest days of development, Chris wanted to have a scene where our heroes become punching bags for the Punch Monkeys," says Belson. "We all loved the idea but for years we just couldn't find a place for it in the movie, but Chris's determination prevailed, happily leading to the moment you see on screen.")
- An unexpected blending of canine and crocodile, the Crocopup's menacing looks and razor sharp teeth mask a friendly demeanor. Thunk makes him his pet, and names him Douglas. (The incongruous moniker was Clark Duke's spontaneous idea, born from a recording session where it was realized that Thunk's new pet needed a name, and Clark suggested Douglas - his agent's first name.
- The Piranhakeets a cross between a fully featured parakeet and a fine-toothed piranha. The ferocious, flocking predators quickly devour any creature in their path.
- Being part coyote and part lizard, the Liyote enjoy sunning themselves outside the Croods' cave, but they are also easily frightened.
- The tiny elephant known as the Mousephant has the ears and tail of a mouse, and is one of the first creatures the Croods encounter on their journey. The Mousephant appears harmless, but just wait until its massive trumpet roars.
- The Ramu are intriguing hybrid of ram and emu, and possess the strength and rushing power of a linebacker.
- Connected by their trip hazard-like tails, the Trip Gerbils are mischievous rodents that are never without each other -- as predators or prey.
"While we broke some rules of nature in creating these beasts, we always tried to retain their believability in the context of this environment," adds Hartwell. "We had to imagine that if you came across a given creature, no matter how ridiculous, it had to look like it could really co-exist with the Croods."
During their recording sessions, the actors saw tantalizing early looks of these creatures and the Croods' brave new world, but it wasn't until they screened a near-finished version of the film, that a true appreciation of the work of hundreds of artists, designers, animators, and technicians kicked in for them (All told, 385 people have worked on the film.) Says Ryan Reynolds: "What's amazing to me is that you experience things with an animated movie that you can only wish you could do with a live action film. The film is so textured and looks so real you forget you're watching an animated film."
DeMicco and Sanders immerse us in this adventure, along with the Croods. "We wanted to shoot the film through the Croods' eyes, like you're part of their experience," Sanders explains. "The Croods are seeing everything for the first time, and we wanted audiences to share in their discoveries."
To that end, the filmmakers employed a handheld camera style, in the opening chase sequence, for example, which lends an anything-can-happen-at-any-moment feel.
"A character will suddenly make a move and go in a certain direction, and the camera lags behind as though the 'cameraman' didn't really know where the character was going," Sanders explains. "We tried not to anticipate too many things. We didn't want the action to look choreographed."
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