The Croods directors Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco | Interview
Thu Mar 21 2013
Photo: Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation
Co-writers and -directors of The Croods, Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco have put years into bringing their comic vision of how a family of cavepeople cope with environmental upheaval. (Hint: When volcanoes and earthquakes threaten, you move.) DreamWorks Animation’s newest 3-D film features the voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Cloris Leachman and Emma Stone as members of the title family navigating the perils of the prehistoric “Crood-aceous Era.” The inspiration for the story came from a different idea originally developed a decade ago by De Micco and comedian John Cleese.
Sanders (who has a seven-year-old daughter) and Di Micco (the father to newborn twins) arrived in Chicago earlier this month—on the day of the biggest snowstorm the city had seen in two years. From their vantage point in a hotel overlooking the iconic Water Tower, the pair delighted in filming the falling snow with their smart phones using a time-lapse app. Once we finished talking about the weather, we got around to the matter of movies, cartoons and kids.
What are your first memories of loving animation and movies?
Chris Sanders: As a little kid, I remember going to see The Jungle Book. I always loved animation as a kid. I always drew. I never really thought I could make a living drawing. In my final days of high school in Denver, my grandmother read an article in the newspaper about a school called CalArts. They were training artists to go into Disney Studios, so I applied and got in.
You share story and screenplay credits, and John Cleese has a credit too. How many people were involved in writing this?
Kirk De Micco: We share story credit with John Cleese, whom I wrote original script with. It was really a great experience writing with him. We had written a script together for Disney based on The Twits, a Roald Dahl book, and that movie didn’t go. DreamWorks got a hold of it and really liked it, and invited us over to take a look at the projects. It was a kernel of an idea of two cavemen on the run—one was a luddite and one was a wacky inventor. The main theme was the fear of change and technology. John has a definite fear of technology and thinks it’s ruining the world. When Chris came [to the project] in 2007, we continued to work on the theme fear of change.
Chris, has your seven-year-old seen the film?
Sanders: We’ve been talking about it for a long time, and she just saw the wrap-party screening last Thursday. She was highly anticipating the tar-pit scene. She’s a big fan of the La Brea Tar Pits. I had a moment of distress because that scene came and went a few times—luckily, it came back in. During that scene, she reached over; she was really concerned because she knows that tar pits equals death. We have visited that museum [in Los Angeles], one of her favorites places to go. We actually bought the play version of the tar you can take home in a little bottle. She puts it in a plate and takes her dolls and her animals, and sinks them in the tar.
De Micco: She’s her father’s daughter.
Are kids your ultimate test audience?
Sanders: Kids are uncompromising. We get most nervous about screening for kids more than anything else. They aren’t afraid of showing how they feel, and you know when they’re disengaged.
De Micco: If they really wanted to test a movie, they should have pressure-sensitive seats, because the moment kids start to move around during those test screenings, we know we’ve lost them.
You made an interesting choice with this film. There’s no real antagonist; it’s a man-versus-nature story.
Sanders: That was the big challenge of this movie, the villain being the world. Getting that come to life was more difficult than we ever would have suspected. We varied the appearance of that “villain” every time it would manifest itself: Sometimes it’s a rift with lava, sometimes an earthquake; sometimes an upheaval in the distance, sometimes up close. It made for a very unique movie. I’ve never worked on a movie there wasn’t a villain you can cut to. One of the things we did, we eventually added that giant green tiger. It became to Grug what the crocodile is to Captain Hook. Every time Grug rests too long, this tiger will show up and keep driving him forward.
De Micco: The lack of villain has an unintended reaction: Parents are really happy it’s a film where kids aren’t rooting for someone to die. The whole movie isn’t building towards, “Are they gonna kill that guy?” It doesn’t have that spirit of revenge, which is different. A lot of moms have commented on that.
How did you decide to write the hostile relationship between Grug and his mother-in-law? More than once, he says he wants her to die. The relationship between the two might be the most antagonistic in the movie.
De Micco: It’s really interesting. In Berlin, a reporter said to us, “So clearly, it’s about an Italian family, because the mother-in-law is there and the husband doesn’t like her.” And in Miami we heard, “Clearly this is a Latin family, because the mother-in-law’s there and the husband doesn’t like her.” So it’s pretty universal, I guess.
A lot movies have only one female character. The cool thing about having a movie with a lot of female characters is: We know Grug loves his daughter so much, and he loves Ugga his wife. He’s only against the mother, so he can get away with it; if not you’d ask, “Is he against women?” But, no, he’s just clearly against Gran. And Gran is against everybody, but she’s just cranky and old.
Are people astonished when they learn how much time it takes to make one animated movie?
Sanders: Yeah. The longest time for a movie—still the record for me–was working on Mulan for six years. If you have a child around the time you start the movie, by the time of the premiere, they can walk into movie and give you notes.