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The prehistoric world of DreamWorks Animation’s Oscar-nominated The Croods helped the filmmakers provide an honest and entertaining look at the dynamics of a family — a subject that will be expanded as they work on the sequel to the film, which made $587 million worldwide.
“When you set a movie in the prehistoric world you are stripping it of all the structure that our world has. There are no jobs, colleges. There is nothing to distract you from the fact that the only thing you have around you is your family,” explained Kirk De Micco, who directed the movie with Chris Sanders (previously nominated for Oscars as co-director of How to Train Your Dragon and Lilo and Stitch).
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Family dynamics are explored in a story that traces how the Croods clan evolves in a changing — and often dangerous — new world, after their home is destroyed. “The emotional center is largely based around the relationship between the father, Grug (Nicolas Cage), and his daughter, Epp (Emma Stone),” said De Micco. “The father was overprotective; his daughter wants to explore.”
Said De Micco: “We’re talking about universal themes; wherever we went with the film [for premieres], it was instantly relatable.” In fact, last year the nonprofit National Fatherhood Initiative presented its Fatherhood Award to Grug.
Underscoring how the environment supported the story, the prehistoric world transitions from a dry, brown setting to one with bright colors as the Croods set out to find a new home. De Micco noted that a dramatic change in the surroundings made it clear why Grug is being so overprotective.
These new surroundings included a “crystal cave” inspired by the look of geodes, which not only showed the changing world but provided a moment during which Epp and her love interest, Guy, “could connect visually as well as emotionally,” said VFX supervisor Markus Manninen. “The materials allowed us to use light to define the look of the space, with the light bouncing around to create a rich, romantic feel,” he said. “We used tropical green water in combination with rocks that created a romantic tonality, but in a rock environment rather than a beach environment.”
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“We didn’t want [the environments] to be too prehistoric or too much like another planet,” De Micco said. “They had to be grounded so that the drama at the end would feel real. You had to feel that Grug was going to lose his family. So a level of ‘cartoony-ness’ had to balance with naturalistic textures and visual effects.”
To sum up the theme of family, the filmmakers conceived a sequence toward the end of the film, during which Grug creates a cave painting of himself with his arms around his family — showing how he has changed, as earlier in the film he paints to teach his family to avoid danger. “It was the symbol of our movie,” De Micco said of the moment.
The directing pair is already working on a sequel. “The cool thing about doing a sequel with a family is it doesn’t have to be just about the leads. There are other stories to be told, such as the story of the mother, Ugga (Catherine Keener). The next one will have a lot to do with motherhood.”
Added De Micco: “If this film was the last chapter of the caveman, the second will be the first chapter of society.”
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