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TV Series Review

You'd think that prehistoric humankind would have more than enough to occupy its collective time, what with all the hunting and gathering and fending off owl bears they have to do. But that's not the case in the less-than-idyllic Valley of Aaagh.

The Valley? Oh, yes, the valley—the one that was destroyed at the beginning of The Croods, DreamWorks' rather insightful 2013 movie. Netflix's Dawn of the Croods is a 2-D prequel to the more rounded-out Croods. In tone and quality, it reminds me more of the roughly animated Hanna-Barbera shows I used to watch as a kid than of the more thoughtful and even sometimes surprisingly elegant animated movies we've seen in theaters of late.

There's no earth-rending cataclysms to outrun here. Just owl bears … and massive flying insects … and stampeding buffalo … and venomous spider ants … and giant ramus. So, what I'm saying is there's still plenty to keep everyone on their toes, mostly at a full sprint. And yet, everyone in the valley still has plenty of time to squabble, fight and pick their noses—and maybe even learn some lessons about family and friendship, too.

A Coming of (Stone) Age Story

The Valley of Aaagh (named for the last word of its late founder) boasts a surprisingly complex social structure. Its residents aren't content merely to grunt at one another. No. In this valley, not only do folks need to work pretty much full time to stay out of bigger creatures' mouths, they must also find the time to gossip over rock-picket fences and keep up with the Ooogs. And if you're a teenager like Eep Crood, the world is just as fraught with social peril as it is the regular kind. Hey, evading predators is old hat for Eep. But evading peer-based stigma? Well, that's another matter. And her family sure doesn't make it easy.

Oh, they mean well, as most families do. Grug, the Croods' paterfamilias, can bonk prey like nobody's business. But his overprotective nature can put a kink in Eep's social calendar. Ugga is a wonderful mother, but she too can iron wrinkles in Eep's plans. As for the rest of them—ill-mannered brother Thunk; near-feral younger sister Sandy; and cantankerous, leathery Gran—well, they're just plain embarrassing. It'll take more than a nice leopard-print one-piece to keep Eep socially relevant at this rate.

But the truth is, Eep loves her family, prehistoric lesions and all. And if Dawn of the Croods has any consistent moral, it's that even the weirdest-looking families have their own sort of beauty.

A Lascaux-Faire Attitude

The series offers other morals as well, and doles them out pretty regularly. We're told to mind our consciences. And nearly everyone learns one valuable lesson or another by the time each episode's credits roll—even if the constraints of an animated sitcom force them to relearn the same lesson next time. And really, does that make the Croods that much different from us?

But then there's that rotten egg smell wafting through the lesson-filled air. Juvenile jokes riff on gaseous outbursts and bathroom activities, and in the very first episode Gran strips down to her birthday suit to go skinny-dipping. (We don't see her.) Eep's outfit is, um, a bit prehistoric. The series also doubles down on the movie's slapstick violence. Played for laughs, people are dragged off by predators, poisoned by plants, pummeled by rocks and rammed into cliffs. There's more casual mayhem here than on professional wrestling pay-per-view—and it seems to be just about as harmful. These Aaaghites are remarkably rubbery.

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Episode Reviews

Dawn of the Croods - Dec. 24, 2015 "A Gran Day Out"
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