Croods Bark Up a New Tree
An animated television adaptation shines a light on Hulu. Is it more than Disney's dumping ground for adult-skewing fare?
Now Streaming: Released in March 2013, The Croods hit theaters around the same time I was in Austin, Texas, reporting on the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival. Despite a positive review by my friend and colleague James Marsh, I didn't catch up with it until several years later and found it to be surprisingly entertaining.
Released in December 2015, The Croods: Dawn of the Croods hit the Netflix streaming service during the same time that I wasn't paying attention to animated adventures clearly intended for children. At that point, I hadn't even seen The Croods. For the record, the prequel series ran for 88 (?!) episodes and concluded in July 2017, when I still wasn't paying attention.
Released in November 2020, The Croods: A New Age hit theaters during the same time I was in Dallas, Texas, recuperating from a stroke I suffered earlier in the month. Despite a positive review by my colleague Mel Valentin, I didn't catch up with it until several months later and found it to be much more entertaining than I expected.
Released in September 2021, The Croods: Family Tree hit the Hulu streaming service during the same time I was, er, doing other stuff. Once again, I delayed in watching the six-episode series, but now that I have, I wonder why I delayed (once again) in catching up with the Croods.
Maybe it's because the major Hollywood studios have been pumping out made-for-video adaptations of their big-screen hits (and misses) for years. In the 1990s, the industry collectively realized that their children were perfectly happy watching sequels and adaptations on videotape, over and over again.
In the current streaming age, the entertainment industry collectively realizes that a huge hunger exists among audiences for new things to watch, and so "content" has been pumped out in an overwhelming flood of made-for-video feature films and episodic "television" shows. It's easy to lose track of shows and movies that may possibly appeal to adult viewers, especially when, like The Croods: Family Tree, the show is categorized as 'appropriate for ages 5-7.'
The new series, self-rated TVY7, is listed on the service as starring Amy Rosoff, Kelly Marie Tran (reprising her role from The Croods: A New Age), Darin Brooks, Ally Dixon and Amy Landecker. Drawing upon what transpired in The Croods: A New Age, the series follows what happens as two families from different backgrounds and vastly varying experiences work hard to enjoy life in their primitive world.
The characters are the same, though they are gently expanded so we can enjoy more of their quirks and tics. They have all developed different coping mechanisms and survival techniques, while also breeding different approaches to child-rearing (and parent-rearing, if that's a thing).
Beautifully animated, I was not conscious of a lowered budget, which was surely put in place to make it economically feasible. (Witness the use of experienced voice actors instead of Hollywood stars, save for Kelly Marie Tran.) The actors are all very good at making their characters unique and easily discernible when listening to them grunt and groan and talk.
More than that, though, genuinely witty writing is what makes the series so appealing for adult viewers. Like the feature films, the episodes are snappy and feature many moments when expectations are pleasantly upended and something stupendously silly is substituted.
Visual jokes are the best in animated films and television shows. The gorgeous, richly varied backgrounds build a diverse playground for the characters, who have all been marvelously designed. (Especially in comparison with, say, The Flintstones.)
The lessons taught are fine and inserted gently into the stories, without calling attention to themselves. I'm sure that children 5-7 will enjoy watching the series, but I couldn't help but think how much adults might like it, too.
How does the show fit into Hulu's recently-bred labeling as the home for more adult-skewing fare produced under the Disney family of companies? This branding and/or marketing idea first became known in April 2019, when the reimagined adaptation of High Fidelity was moved from Disney Plus to Hulu.
At the time, Deadline reported: "While the movie was rated R, reflecting the tone in the book, I hear the series was originally pitched as a more of a PG-13, lighter take on the material that would appeal to millennials, a demographic Disney+ is looking to reach.
"But I hear as the development progressed, and especially after [Zoe] Kravitz came on board as star and executive producer, the project evolved creatively to become more mature than what Disney+ would feel comfortable programming. In order to protect the vision of the creators and allow them to tell the story the way they envisioned it, Disney+ opted to let the series go to Hulu."
A few months later, Deadline reported on the decision to move Love, Simon, a spinoff series from the feature film Love, Victor, from Disney Plus to Hulu: "There have been some growing pains but Disney+ has started to firm up its programming brand as a place for family-friendly fare, differentiating itself from the more adult-oriented Hulu. As a result, shows that are considered more mature than what Disney+ would feel comfortable programming, are being shifted to Hulu."
This all makes perfect sense from a marketing standpoint. Disney has widely advertised 'The Disney Bundle,' combining Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, and Hulu for one price, and it doesn't make sense (or won't make more than a few cents) unless the services offer markedly different types of fare.
I'm not sure where this leaves Hulu as a destination for family-friendly fare that might also appeal to adults who are not particularly drawn to Hulu Originals, but I will keep on the watch for other shows that merit attention. In the meantime, enjoy The Croods: Family Tree! [Hulu]