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Dynamic duo perseveres in bringing ‘Croods’ to big screen

Directors Kirk DeMicco (left) Chris Sanders attend “The Croods” premiere New York City earlier this month. | GETTY IMAGES

Directors Kirk DeMicco (left) and Chris Sanders attend “The Croods” premiere in New York City earlier this month. | GETTY IMAGES

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Updated: April 23, 2013 1:34PM

The new DreamWorks Animation film “The Croods” may be set in a highly-fictionalized prehistoric caveman era, but for directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders their overriding concern during this movie’s long gestation was to tell a very universal tale.

“First of all, we want the audiences who come see the film to immediately relate to these characters and what they’re going through. This is all about family and the dynamics that go along with that,” said DeMicco, sitting down recently in Chicago with Sanders to talk about the film, opening March 22 in local theaters.

Picking up on that theme, Sanders said, “Who can’t relate to a father like Grug [voiced by Nicolas Cage] who is both highly-resistant to change and also highly-protective of his teenage daughter [the character Eep, voiced by Emma Stone].

“Of course, in the Stone Age world of Grug, there are a lot of deadly dangers constantly lurking outside his family’s cave — making his constant mantra of ‘fear is good, change is bad’ somewhat more understandable.”

DeMicco and Sanders laughed when it was noted the gestation of “The Croods” must have almost seemed like they, too, had to wait for a mini-millennium to get the final film into theaters.

“Yes, it took a long time — considering the film was originally announced by DreamWorks about eight years ago, back when it was called ‘Crood Awakening,’” said DeMicco, noting the unexpected dissolution of the partnership between DreamWorks and Aardman Animations in 2006 forced the various delays and led to a reworking of the original script. (Originally, DeMicco and John Cleese of “Monty Python” fame teamed up to write that screenplay.)

After a number of twists and turns, DeMicco and Sanders got together in May 2009 — charged with directing the new “The Croods” project. For the two men, there was tremendous freedom in creating an animated movie set in a time that “no one today really knows that much about, with the exception of the relatively small group of scholars, archeologists and the like,” said Sanders.

For that reason the two filmmakers and their team of animators and designers “had a pretty free hand to come up some of the fantastical flora and fauna that we did,” added DeMicco, who did stress they worked very hard to create prehistoric creatures that did have some semblance to the real animals that evolved over the centuries.

The duo also were quick to compliment the high-profile voice talent they were able to attract to “The Croods.”

Cage in particular snagged high praise from both men, “because he really got into the character of Grug and what he thought that character would say, that would be believeable,” said DeMicco. “He’d take a script and then do some great ad libbing — and it would be so good, we’d leave it in the final cut.”

As for Cloris Leachman, who voiced the hilariously funny, Gran — Grug’s ferociously feisty mother-in-law, the the bane of his existence — both DeMicco and Sanders simultaneously hooted with delight, remembering working with the Oscar-winning actress.

“Cloris isone-of-a-kind,” said Sanders. “She did a great job, but we never really knew what would come out of her mouth whenever she showed up.

“Kind of like the world we created for ‘The Croods.’ Their whole world was about leaping into the unknown tomorrow.”

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