There’s no place like home. Even if it’s a cave.
Take, for instance, the Croods’ rocky casa. Sure, their Paleolithic suburban abode may not look like much to you and me. It lacks toilets. It lacks windows. There’s nothing about it to make a Cro-Magnon Realtor salivate. But it has character, this place—a nice little ledge in back (a perfect retreat after a hard day of mammoth hunting), granite countertops (and walls and ceilings and furniture) and a state-of-the-art security system (a massive rock that doubles as the front door). It’s mostly dry and mostly warm and mostly safe.
And given the neighborhood, being safe is a big deal.
Not that there’s a better neighborhood to move to. We’re talking prehistory here, before even the most rudimentary of HOAs. Carnivorous beasties have overrun pert near everything, and the Croods’ neighbors have all been squished or eaten or accidentally poisoned—a trend that really does drag down property values while simultaneously making you ever more grateful for what you have—your nice, safe, well-constructed cave. And Grug, head of the Crood household, values his cave immensely—so much so that he rarely lets the rest of the family leave it.
Then, in a rare moment when the Croods are out and about, the ground begins to shimmy. Fissures form underneath their feet. Cliff faces begin to slough their mineral skins, sending boulders careening toward the panicked brood of Croods. The whole world seems to be falling apart—because, well, it is.
The family makes a mad dash for the safety of their cave … but find it’s gone, destroyed by the cataclysm. And given that the first home insurance policy won’t be written for thousands of years, all seems lost. Without the cozy confines of their craggy cottage, Grug worries, they’ll be gobbled up by rampaging critters in no time.
“We need a cave,” Grug says.
But Eep, Grug’s headstrong teenage daughter, believes there may be a better way. The night before, she met a guy named … Guy. He was different, this Guy: He stood upright and wore a monkey/sloth/critter ’round his middle that he called Belt. Oh, and he carried the sun with him too—or, at least, a miniature version of it. He called it Fire. When Eep talked with him, Guy seemed to know something about the world ending—and he had a plan to deal with it. Maybe they could connect with him. Maybe he could help them all deal with this whole “end of everything” thing. Maybe they could learn how to make their way in the world without forever cowering in a cavern.
There may be no place like home. But no matter how good the home is, it won’t be worth much if you’re not around to enjoy it.
For years, Grug had the answers. He knew how to survive in this dusty, brutal world, and he had the strength and courage to keep his loved ones safe. But when he loses his cave and is forced to push through unfamiliar territory, he’s a little lost. His rules don’t work. His skills seem worthless.
But even as he struggles and often fails to come to terms with the new world around him, the movie never lets us forget that Grug would do anything—anything—to keep his family safe. He would sacrifice breakfast … or his life.
Guy doesn’t have the strength Grug does. But he cares for the Croods even if they abuse him a bit, and he helps save them through the use of his fertile and creative brain. He knows how to deal with fire. He has a handle on how to get around fearsome creatures. While Grug resists change, Guy embraces it—the right attitude to have in days of cataclysmic alteration. Naturally, the two don’t always get along. But Grug comes to trust Guy’s ideas. And Guy submits to Grug’s leadership. It’s a great example of how people of different stripes can complement one another.
Beyond just Grug and Guy, the rest of the Croods are made up of unique, sometimes prickly individuals who, when it really matters, show how much they love and care for one another. When everything’s literally falling apart, they show that family can keep us all together and at least relatively sane.
A word or two about the world in which this story takes place: The Croods are, clearly, modeled after (according to evolutionary theory) transitional ape-like men. They have sloping foreheads and sometimes run on all fours. They’re not entirely human. Not like we are. The filmmakers don’t seem to be pushing for a strict evolutionary mindset here, though. Indeed, these Croods live right alongside Guy, who is your standard-issue (modern) human.
Beyond the religious connotations of the evolution debate, there’s little else that’s explicitly spiritual to deal with. But there are some spiritual lessons imbedded in the rock worth discussing as long as you’re willing to risk a plot spoiler or two:
The sun is a big deal to the Croods. Through Eep’s eyes, we see that it represents hope and optimism, the promise of a better tomorrow. And when the world looks like it’s crashing down around them, they all travel toward that warm and welcoming orb. They think, quite literally, that they’re heading to the land of Tomorrow and all the promise that tomorrow encompasses.
Just when they seem to get close, a series of explosions rock their world. In front of them—between the Croods and Tomorrow—a chasm forms and smoke billows, forming a barrier. And they wonder whether there’s now anything at all beyond the smoke. Maybe the sun and its tomorrow have truly been destroyed.
But Grug holds up his hand and, through the black smoke, he sees—he feels—the sun on his skin. And he realizes what he must do. One by one, Grug picks up the members of his beloved family and throws them across the chasm—hoping, believing that he’s helping them all get to a better place.
It’s a frank moment of faith. Grug’s world is dying. He’s uncertain of what lies ahead. And he takes the leap forward anyway. He’s not placing his faith in God, of course. He says nothing of God in this movie. But his actions work just as well as a metaphor for spiritual faith as secular gumption. We, like the Croods, walk through a fallen, dangerous, even dying world. We’re told that life resides in God. That we must put our faith in the unseen to survive the seen. That we must hold up our hand and lift up our hearts to feel the warmth. The glow of God’s love. And follow it. Hurl ourselves and our loved ones toward it.
Guy and Eep kinda like each other (much to Grug’s consternation). The two sometimes hug and hold each other and even briefly kiss, as Grug—dutiful, protective father that he is—works to keep them from getting too close. Naturally, he won’t succeed. Not if Gran is any indication of the way things work. She recalls a past relationship, saying, “I was a hunter, he was a gatherer. It was quite the scandal.”
Also: Parents may think Eep’s skirt is a bit too short and her top a bit too low. (And then, to be fair, we should also mention that Guy goes without a shirt.)
It’s a mammal-eat-mammal world out there, and The Croods brims with slapstick violence, comic peril and the occasional creature being consumed. Hey, calories were a big deal back then!
Characters are threatened by all manner of animals, and they even accidentally walk into the mouth of a very, very big one. The most frightening creatures we see, though, are small bird-like carnivores that can skeletonize massive land whales in the blink of an eye.
Monkeys beat Grug silly. Carnivorous flowers swallow passersby. We see the demise of all the Croods’ neighbors (in the form of a cartoon within the cartoon). We learn that Guy’s parents died in a tar pit.
The Crood clan, meanwhile, thwack one another with stones, whap away with sticks, wrestle and pester and trip. Baby Sandy is a feral child—a growling terror to both man and beast. A hungry Gran tries to swallow the leg of her own grandson. Grug and Eep, when they see that Guy has mastery over fire, try to literally squeeze more flames out of him. They take family photos by smashing themselves with rocks. (You’ll have to see it to understand.) They occasionally have painful battles with fire. Grug tosses his mother-in-law up in the air like a coin. She lands on her head with a thud.
An elephant falls through a crack in the earth. A dog/skunk/critter appears to roll off a cliff (though he’s later found safe and sound). Scorpions and very large birds are eaten. A bird disappears in an explosion of feathers.
Except for “dummy” and “sucky,” the Croods do not use crude words.
We see Belt mix and serve cocktail-like drinks.
As a running joke, Grug forever seems to hope that Gran has died (though he’s ultimately grateful for her continued survival). Eep sometimes speaks to her father disrespectfully (though she, too, sees the error of her ways).
“Never not be afraid!”
That’s Grug’s motto—and the primary lesson he wishes to pass on to his children. He tells fearsome bedtime stories in which the main characters always die. He forces his family to pause and listen for danger quite literally after every step. And who could blame him? There’s a lot to be afraid of.
Yet in the brighter world beyond the cave’s walls, Grug’s rules seem to have very little meaning. To hide in a cave is pointless when the cave itself could implode. To stop and shiver in fear after every step seems ludicrous when the very ground could swallow you whole.
The Croods is, first and foremost, Grug’s story. And it’s one I think an awful lot of fathers might relate to. As the dad of a 19-year-old myself, I know I can. Our world is morphing before our eyes, and our strongest desire is to prepare our children for it—and protect them from it. We know it’s dangerous, and so our instinct can be to lock them away from it all—to keep it and them apart by rolling as big a boulder as we can find across the entryway to their bedroom.
And let’s face it: Here at Plugged In we encourage parents to be cautious.
But there comes a time when we can’t protect our kids as much as we’d like. And as we watch them text and tweet and teach us how to Skype, we can feel clumsy. Obsolete. Prehistoric.
All the while, we wonder: When should we shield them? When do we let them make their own mistakes? When do we keep them close to the nest? When do we force them to fly?
So never mind Grug’s dire dictum. The Croods tells us that we should teach our children to never be afraid.
Now, I’d personally not go that far. Fear—or at least a healthy respect of dangerous things—is good for you. If you don’t fear anything—tigers, or walking across Interstates, or swallowing kerosene—well, you’re liable to end up like one of those poor souls in Grug’s stories. But as Eep tells her father, to live in fear isn’t living: It’s just not dying.
God meant us to live. And in God, we do indeed have nothing to fear. Read 2 Timothy 1 if you don’t believe me.
While we’re on the topic, I should say that there’s very little to fear from this movie. The Croods, for all its slapstick violence, is a fun, mostly clean and utterly charming diversion—something made for kids but meant for their parents. It’s funny. It’s touching. It reminds us that being a parent is tough in any epoch—but always worth the effort. It reminds us to always follow the light.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.