'The Croods' directors on how they created a believable animated family and their approach to scary moments
On the surface, The Croods, DreamWorks Animation’s latest film, is about a primitive family facing the destruction of their known world during the fictitious Croodacious period. At its heart though, it’s about a father and daughter having to adjust how they see each other, while dealing with the introduction of new ideas. And creating that dynamic was no easy task, according to directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco.
“It was a bit of a trick because we had never worked with a family before,” says Sanders. “The main characters are Grug (Nicolas Cage), Eep (Emma Stone), and Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Each of those characters are in opposition to one another at the beginning of the story but by the end of the movie they’ve come to see each others’ point of view. Balancing those forces was something that took quite a while. It was a very difficult endeavor to make this family work. The reward is that we launched a family.”
Both Sanders and DeMicco say that their cast’s ability to keep the characters likable is a large part of why this particular family works.
“Nic helped us so much with his performance because the really tough thing is that Grug’s got this slightly aggressive quality and all these rules, and keeping him sympathetic sometimes [happened with] just a shot here or there,” says DeMicco. “But his heart is in the right place every frame of the film. He just was in way over his head.”
“Guy was a character we wanted to be smarter than [the Croods]. He had the world’s first imagination. He’d seen millions of things. He had a great advantage over them. We wanted him to be frightened of them at the beginning. And then appalled by them. Then he warms to them. I think that’s something that Ryan really pulled off,” he says. “Even when he’s being standoffish he’s got a certain charm to him. It doesn’t feel like he’s being elitist or snobby. “
“I’d say the same thing is true for Emma,” says DeMicco of Stone’s portrayal of a rebellious teenage girl. “On top of the normal challenges a voice actor faces when doing an animated film, those being there’s no one to act off of and there is no set to immerse you in the proper mood, the added pressure for Emma was to perform a role that was empathetic and likable. And all of our actors did that.”
The movie has it’s fair share of tense moments, including its emotional ending. But the directors aren’t worried that it will be too much for young audiences because of how they frame it.
“Between balancing that comedy and drama, when we knew there were situations where kids might be a little worried, we had was some big release on the other side of it that really allowed the audience, especially the kids, to get the signal that they were okay and the tone was changed,” says DeMicco.
Without giving anything away, there is a somewhat dark scene toward the end but the directors felt it was important to push the envelope just a bit to get the emotional payoff.
“It’s something that my very favorite movies did. Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast. I worked on Beauty and the Beast and we worked on that last scene very hard, specifically to make it look as if they’d gone too far and there’s no way this was going to work out,” says Sanders. “So we timed the moment when the Beast said I love you to come right before the last petal fell off the rose. So technically he said it but we still went to the rose and saw the petals fall off because we wanted to convince the audience that all was lost. And my very favorite movies always went as far as they could.”