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Immersed in Movies: DreamWorks Has a 'Crood' Awakening

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood March 15, 2013 at 3:04PM

You couldn't find a more apt movie to sum up DreamWorks Animation at the moment than "The Croods" (March 22), the prehistoric road trip adventure about embracing change as a survival strategy when the world turns terribly hostile. After last year's box office misfire with "Rise of the Guardians," which resulted in a $165 million write-off, layoffs, and schedule reshuffle, DreamWorks is definitely in transition.
Chris Sanders
Chris Sanders

"When I left for 'Dragon' it was a lot more Dr. Seuss whimsical and when I came back, given this new story line, we both realized that it need to have more weight and reality, so we redid all the surfaces and made the whole world a lot more believable," Sanders recalls.

They wanted the world to be as alien and unpredictable for the viewer as it is for the cave clan. The landscape is Zion-like in its stylization (and as horizontal as the character design), and the creatures are hybrids (such as Chunky, the Death Cat Macawnivore). The camerawork is even more hand-held and voyeuristic than "Dragon," giving "The Croods" a documentary vibe.

Speaking of "Dragon," Roger Deakins was back as visual consultant and his influence can be seen in some of the nighttime scenes. The crisp, clean blacks and torch lit moments bear his signature.

"While it is a very low population for an animated film, they're onscreen together the entire time and it's all about the dynamics because there's no traditional villain," DeMicco remarks. "There's nowhere to cut to, there's nowhere to look, there's nowhere to take a break, there's no B-story. I think it took us a very long time to get a handle on tracking every scene for this ensemble. Unlike live-action, where they bring the last scene with them, we had to bring it with us."

Technically, what was the greatest challenge? Tar. That was a new element that the DreamWorks simulation team had never dealt with before but they eventually figured out the right viscosity.

"These types of stories where you have real people in extraordinary situations are my very favorite," Sanders admits. "I like characters that are mixture of good and evil and certainly more so than any other project I've worked on, these are subtle characters. It's strange to say that, because they run around and crash into things and their world is very hostile, but we had to strike a delicate balance because we needed the audience to sympathize with them and like them at the same time that these characters needed to be believably in opposition to each other."

A delicate balance, indeed. "The Croods" marks the first animated release of the year in a season where originals are in opposition to franchises. We'll have to see how it plays out, especially with regard to the Oscar race.

This article is related to: Animation, Immersed In Movies, Features, DreamWorks, DreamWorks, Chris Sanders, The Croods

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.