Me Ju-osh. Me do unofficial Croods blog. Me get invited to DreamWorks. Me go with sister Caroline. Us take tour with Kristen and Daniel. Me nervous whole time. Me meet Chris Sanders. Me get more nervous. Me speak stupid things -- or no speak at all. Me walk with Chris Sanders down long hall. Large group of people gather behind us. Croods co-director Kirk De Micco is one of them. Kirk De Micco open door to strange room, invite Caroline and me inside. Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco say, "Want see film clips?" Me say, "Me do! Me do!"
I probably should've fact-checked this, but I believe the room that Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco had led us into was an editing bay. Then again, it could have been a Starfleet Academy dorm room. The classic elements were in place for both: The well-worn couches. The movie posters on the walls. The thirsty potted plants. Oh, and two of the largest computer monitors seen outside of the Starship Enterprise.
Once we were all inside, Caroline and I were introduced to The Croods' producers, Kristine Belson (How To Train Your Dragon) and Jane Hartwell (Shrek), as well as animation supervisor James Baxter (a.k.a. the pencil behind Belle). Was I able to grunt anything but an inaudible hello? Of course not! But I had finally begun to understand why.
Chris Sanders is my Kryptonite.
Yes, you read that right. Chris Sanders -- my all-time favorite animation director and the creator of Lilo & Stitch -- is also the ultimate natural neutralizer to my superpower of speech.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like I hold it against him or anything. Dude made the movie that helped save my family from complete disintegration (Lilo & Stitch), as well as the film that became a holiday staple for my gal Mishka's family (How To Train Your Dragon). If all I have to sacrifice in return is the sound of my voice, well...it's still a better deal than Ariel's.
Lips zipped, I sat down on a cushy, grey couch beside Caroline. Sanders and De Micco quietly conferred for a moment, then asked the gal at the helm -- er, the editing bay -- to cue up a couple of scenes for us. If my PTSD (post tour-matic stress disorder) is in any way obscuring my excitement over this moment, allow me to spell it out for you in all-caps: CHRIS SANDERS AND KIRK DE MICCO WERE GOING TO PERSONALLY SCREEN THREE SCENES FROM THEIR FILM FOR ME. Not only that, they were going to introduce each scene separately, providing occasional on-the-spot directors' commentary!
This was one of those times where I wished I could magically mash-up words like Mary Poppins, creating my very own 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' out of the phrases 'effing awesome,' 'totally surreal' and 'wholly unbelievable,' along with the comic book-style sound effects of my jaw hitting the floor, my heart beating double-time, and my two Inner-mes slapping one another across the face to make sure they weren't dreaming.
According to Chris and Kirk (listen to me with my first name basis!), the three scenes we were going to see were the opening scene, the Croods-meet-Guy scene, and "the maze" scene. As you could probably guess, no one needed to tell this mute to stop talking as the large monitors lit up.
WARNING: Thar be spoilers ahead! If you want to experience The Croods completely spoiler-free, stop reading now. Skip down to the bold print announcing 'Group Photos & Fond Farewells' and wait for me there. The rest of you? The excited and the impatient and the delirious for any new details no matter how minor? Read on...
The Three Scenes Screened
Chris Sanders introduced the opening scene by saying, "We wanted to make sure that The Croods delivered on what we called 'the universal caveman expectations.' There are certain things that people want to see in a caveman film. They want to see guys that are fast and that are strong, but have beginner's minds. They want to see lava and tar pits and giant bugs."
To which Kirk De Micco added, "We always wanted a real strong slapstick, Looney Tunes vibe. We wanted to bring that in because we've all seen cavemen in live action films. They're usually just actors walking around slumped over. They can't run at fifty miles per hour like a caveman could. So that was what we wanted to have fun with."
Well, the opening scene is not only fun, it's NUTS. At its most basic level, it's a crazy and kinetic peek at the Croods' daily struggle for food. But it also serves a secondary purpose, as an introduction to the individual characters' personalities. Starting with Thunk and continuing through the family one by one, we watch as the Croods race virtually every colorful creature from the first two trailers (except the big, green saber-tooth) for a large, blue egg.
Sound exciting? Just wait. With this scene, Sanders and De Micco have staged an action-packed set piece that's equal parts Rube Goldberg and Chuck Jones. Gags build on one another at an ever-increasing pace, propelling the scene forward with bigger and bigger laughs and greater and greater momentum. Sure, we're getting a highly detailed, carefully orchestrated overview of the Croods and the world that they inhabit, but the whole time you're watching, all you're really thinking is: LOOK OUT! GO LEFT! DID I JUST SEE A GIANT, FEATHERED WOLVERINE?!
The second scene we were shown was the Croods' introduction to Guy. Providing a brief bit of background, Sanders said that this scene takes place a little while after Eep first meets Guy. She's obviously intrigued by him, but has yet to tell her family about the mysterious stranger. After this sequence, the secret's out.
Action junkies, rejoice! This scene is another hit of high-octane, high-stakes hilarity, only this time the threat comes from those little, red, piranha-looking parrots. The scene begins with the Croods watching in horror as the piranha/parrots descend like a swarm of bees upon on a large elephant-y creature. In less than a second, they've stripped it to the bone. With that mammoth-sized meal out of the way, the parrots swirl back up into the sky, regrouping above the Croods.
I won't ruin the breathtakingly beautiful moment of last second salvation that happens next. Instead, I'll just say that this scene is not only the Croods' introduction to Guy, it's their introduction to fire, as well. Remember the final scene in the second trailer? The one where Thunk is running around with his back on fire while Grug hollers for him to "try hiding from it in the tall, dry grass"? That's just one of the many great gags that come out of this unforgettable first encounter.
The third and final scene that we were shown was referred to by both directors simply as "the maze." Sanders introduced it by describing the storytelling hurdle that first led to its inception.
"The Croods actually has the fewest characters of any movie I've done, but it had the most characters in each scene. Seven or eight at one time! So we needed to find a way to split them up so that they would have a chance to grow as individuals as well as a family."
Success! This scene was by far the quietest and gentlest of the three shown. It's almost entirely dialogue-free, so as an audience member, you're forced to project your own thoughts and feelings onto the characters, which really draws you in. It's kinda like that scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke has to crawl into that small cave on Dagobah to confront his greatest fears. Only, in this scene, the Croods are forced to travel separately through the cavernous, white labyrinth glimpsed in the second trailer. There's a real sense of wonder and discovery at play here, one that's reminiscent of some of the early scenes between Hiccup and Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon. In fact, of the three scenes shown, this is the one that still resonates with me the most.
(A quick aside to the folks at DreamWorks: My birthday is March 19. If you're having trouble figuring out what to get me, why not bump up the release date by three days? Cuz I CANNOT WAIT to see these scenes in context!)
Group Photos & Fond Farewells
With the three clips over, it was time to say goodbye to Chris and Kirk. They're highly successful motion picture directors, after all. And although I'm sure that they'd have LOVED to spend the entire afternoon with a star-struck blogger and his much more presentable sister, they DID have a big budget animated feature film to attend to. So instead, they offered to walk us outside for a group photo.
Speed-walking down the DreamWorks corridors, heading towards the front doors, I was once again side-by-side with Chris Sanders. (If you missed how awkward and enamored I was during our first walk and talk, click here.) But this time, I was also being book-ended by Kirk De Micco. After admitting to them that I was a li'l overwhelmed by the whole experience, I managed to express the one thought that I'd been carrying with me since The Croods was first announced. I told Chris Sanders how happy I was that he was once again exploring the theme of family.
"You really have to thank Kirk for that," Sanders said. "He was working on The Croods the whole time I was making How To Train Your Dragon. When we first started The Croods, it was about a whole village. It was a much larger story. Then, at one point near the end of Dragons, he took me aside and said, 'I've got this really crazy idea. Let me know what you think of it.' And his idea was to make it about just this one family. I thought it was amazing. He really broke the story wide open."
I turned to Kirk, and he just shrugged and smiled. I said, "Well, honestly, that was the real hook for me. And for my gal, Mishka. And for pretty much everyone else that I've talked to about the film, in person and online. So, thank you!"
"Thank you for doing your blog," Kirk said, and flashed another one of those winning smiles.
It was a little after two as we returned to the piazza at the center of the DreamWorks campus. After battling some unflattering shadows, we settled in for our group photo. I counted three quick clicks, and then we all shook hands (full disclosure: my hands were shaking the entire time) and said our goodbyes.
Watching Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco walk off into the sunset was an unforgettable image. (Okay, so it was only 2:15, but at that time of day, the sun is setting -- technically . C'mon, just give me this one, okay? I need it for the dramatic sense of closure it creates.) To think that they had actually set aside some time in their hectic schedules to show me some footage and regale me with production anecdotes was both humbling and an ego boost. If you could overlook my horrible lack of speaking, my incessant 'angry eyes,' and the fact that I HAD COMPLETELY NEGLECTED TO FULFILL EITHER ONE OF MY TWO SECRET WISHES, this had turned out to be a most wonderful day!
As my all-time favorite animation director (and my vocal cords' Kryptonite) disappeared back into the studio, I could feel the adrenaline drain from my body. I was just about to drop to my knees to thank Kristen and Daniel profusely when who should suddenly speak up but The Croods' animation supervisor (and the pencil behind Belle!), James Baxter.
"If you'd like, I could take you up to my office and show you a character that got cut from the film?"
If I'd like?
If I'd LIKE?!
No, James Baxter. I'd LOVE.
And just like that, I was completely re-adrenalined and wholly incapable of articulating anything.
|James Baxter, Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders, Me & Caroline|
In The Next Exciting (and the next-to-the-last) Installment:
James Baxter! James Baxter! James Baxter!
See you Wednesday!