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Award Season Focus

Jeff Koons Loves “Croods”

Disney’s Frozen has gained momentum in the last two months as the leading cotender for the feature animation Oscar, picking up nearly every possible recognition and endorsement, but the DreamWorks sleeper hit The Croods boasts one endorsement that no other film can claim: a glowing essay by art world superstar Jeff Koons. Koons, whose “Balloon Dog (Orange)” sculpture sold at auction a few months ago for $58.4 million (an all-time high for a living artist), was recently introduced to the film by Harvey Weinstein.

Koons was so enamored with the Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco-directed pic that he sent an email, through Weintein, to DreamWorks Animation chief exec Jeffrey Katzenberg. The Wall Street Journal acquired a copy of Koons’ letter, in which he praised the film’s meaning “based on the philosophy of Plato’s Cave, of freeing oneself from the darkness and following the light to transcendence,” and admired its artistry, including the “sense of physicality and density” and the use of lighting to represent possibilities.

Could Koons’ affection for The Croods perhaps lead to an eventual collaboration with DreamWorks? It’s not out of the question, especially considering that Koons has made millions incorporating classic cartoon characters like Popeye and Pink Panther into his sculptures.

Here is the full text of Koons’ letter:

Over the holiday season, I took my family of eight to see The Croods, which is a wonderful film about the life-changing journey of the first family on Earth. Being on a family road trip ourselves, we could immediately immerse ourselves in the odyssey of this primitive family. What really struck me about this film was this sense of time, how the past and present were woven together so that it connects to human history and the possibilities of our future. It deals with what it feels like to be human, to experience family, community and the possibility of life’s experience. The film is based on the philosophy of Plato’s Cave, of freeing oneself from the darkness and following the light to transcendence.

As survival is the only priority for the Croods, they confine themselves in a cave at night where the father hones their survival instincts by telling stories about how curiosity and newness always end in death. The cave is dark, and their teenage daughter’s curiosity leads them on an adventure. The whole family is forced to address their fears and eventually learn that curiosity and ingenuity are not only necessary for survival, but that ideas lead to enlightenment and to transcendence.

It seems that the prehistoric world that the Croods live in is not so different from today. They experience the same fears and the same family pressures. And Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco added a fair amount of present day references for good measure: conch shell cellphone, clay and stone camera, sports, fashion. Past and present are constantly interwoven.

There is something that is very familiar but very strange conveyed in the animation. There’s a sense of physicality and density that reinforces this sense that ideas come about through gut intuition and feelings. Visually, the film is stunning with rich colors and texture. Light is both an abstract idea but it has an impressive visual presence in the film. At every suspenseful turn in the film, there is light on the horizon that guides the family on. Light represents possibilities.

The imagination of The Croods lies both in the mastery of animation and the spirit of humanity found within the story. The film emulates our world as it deals with the human condition and a realization that it’s not just about survival but transcendence. After emerging from the darkness of the cave, the Croods learn to face their fears, and after initial reluctance, accept the guidance of an orphan boy. The guidance allows the family to draw upon his leadership and learn from their new experiences. It’s human nature to strive for and find a greater purpose in life. As the Croods begin to grasp the power of ideas and analyze their own existence, they move from contemplating the present to the universe and beyond. As their experiences become richer, they begin to understand that there is a human responsibility, not just to one’s self and family, but to one’s community. It’s a beautiful moment of enlightenment as the family experiences this growth and evolution. I walked out of the theater feeling that my family and I could feel a greater connection to what it means to be human and to face the challenges that we confront in being part of the ongoing story.
–Jeff Koons

  • Matthew Broussard

    After seeing ad banners for the Croods on the Brew for so long, I finally caved in (ha get it?) and watched it.

    And it was awful. I couldn’t believe this was from the same Chris Sanders behind Lilo and Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon. Those movies didn’t insult my intelligence with predictable storylines and stale character tropes. Right from the very first scene of this movie you know its going to be a stern father/yearning-to-see-the-world daughter story. And that’s exactly what it was. To see it as some grand “Plato’s Cave” allegory is to give it way to much credit, in my opinion.

    • My kids like it.

    • Paul M

      Well it was a “Plato’s Cave” allegory – maybe not a grand one or anything, but at least it was funny.

      I was expecting 90 minutes of “See caveman burp. See caveman fart” but was pleasantly surprised. As art, it does not reach the high standard set by Pixar’s best, but who cares? I laughed a lot.

      • Funkybat

        It was visually rich, had heart, and had some good laughs along the way. the only thing I can imagine someone finding “awful” about it was the less-than-idealized character designs, but I personally liked them. I would rank The Croods up there with How To Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. Dreamworks has gotten a lot more consistently good in the past few years since they weaned themselves off of the Shrek franchise, Madgascar 3 even managed to improve on the middling Madagascar 2.

        I would not praise the film as effusively as Koons did, but the “Plato’s Cave” analogy was obviously something the writers wanted to reference, though the push-pull between father and daughter got to be a bit frustrating and tiresome at times. Once the father started going with the flow a bit and realizing that his daughter and this stranger boy were not totally out of their gourds, the film started to appeal to me more and more. I would say it finishes pretty strongly, though the peril they faced would have most likely killed them all, but hey, it’s an animated cartoon.

    • white vader

      If you didn’t like it that’s just fine, but what confuses me is that somehow you think HTTyD actually ISN’T full of tired clichés?! I liked it too but whoa. And even L&S is the usual don’t judge a book by its cover at the end of the day. Your post seems disingenuous if tropes and predictability are your argument.

  • Kris Åsard

    You know what else Jeff Koons really, really loves?
    That’s not slander in any way, it’s just a matter of fact. Just sayin….

    • AmidAmidi

      There is nothing kitschy about me. —Jeff Koons

  • enochrox

    Jeff Koons is a hack. I dug the look of Croods tho… so he has THAT working for him, I guess.

  • steepertree

    Has anyone asked him how he feels about The Nut Job?

  • Joseph Patrick

    Wow… talk about the subjectivity of movies. This guy is giving WAAAY too much credit for this film. I don’t think the first 2/3rds of a movie pissed me off with loud obnoxious animation and voice acting in a long time (other than “The Nut Job,” though to be fair I was annoyed throughout the whole experience).

    • Maggiemay

      Ha-ha! You saw the nutjob! Never get that 80 minutes back.

      • Joseph Patrick

        You’re right, I won’t get them back. :(

        I do a weekly review series where I watch animated films, and it’s part of my resolution to watch every mainstream animated feature that comes out in my neck of the woods.

  • Allen

    The Croods was a horrible borderline unwatchable movie. The designs are awful and it alludes me why everyone thinks this film is a good looking film. It is ugly. They won an Annie for design… why because it looks like Avatar. The movie says nothing, it’s about nothing. “conch shell cellphone, clay and stone camera, sports, fashion. Past and present are constantly interwoven.” This is the Flintstones. I am surprised they didn’t have a bowling alley.

    • Funkybat

      Those anachronisms didn’t stick out to me nearly as much as I thought they would before seeing the film. I was expecting something more gag-driven and “Flintstonian” but was pleasantly surprised that it had less “modern stone age family” type jokes and much more of a “oh crap, the world is a hostile and unpredictable place” feel. Their journey felt periously and the emotional arcs of the father and daughter felt believable. There are weak elements, but the film is far from a disaster. I would say it’s one of DWA’s top five films of the past decade.

  • steepertree

    Hmm. The Croods was distributed by Fox, which is one of Rupert Murdoch’s companies, as is the Wall Street Journal. Keeping it in the family.

    • AmidAmidi

      Animation veteran Floyd Norman appeared on Disney-owned ABC show “The View” to talk about “Jungle Book” just as the film is being released in a new Bluray edition. When a handful of companies control the media, this type of synergistic cross-promotion is inevitable. It’s smart practice to be aware of the connections.

      • Murphy

        The appearance of this celebrity artist’s ‘essay,’ falling comfortably within the Oscar voting timeframe, fits the corporate Oscar campaign mold. The world will soon see how much clout Jeff Koons has with academy voters.

  • Stranger

    I can’t believe all the hate this film is getting, The Croods was great, every bit as good as Frozen in my opinion. (But to be fair, I think Frozen was way overhyped).

  • George Comerci

    I honestly wished that Epic got nominated over The Croods. Better animation and character design in my opinion. Not that I don’t like the Croods-I just think that it wasn’t as good as the other films last year.

    • Funkybat

      Epic had lush “realistic” visuals but the characters and many of the character designs were kind of blank and uninspired, at least how they appear in the final film. They still don’t know how to adapt a William Joyce book without draining most of what makes his art appealing. The closest attempt so far was “Robots.” I am not a huge fan of The Croods, but to me it was far more artistically daring than Epic. Epic could have been so much more exciting with the premise it had, and I’m a big fan of “micro-world/tiny people” type stories, but the characters were not that interesting and the acting not all that memorable. The best thing I can say about Epic is that was not as obnoxious as a lot of lesser animated films seem to be, but it was almost too low-key in a way.

  • Robert Fiore

    I always thought The Croods was underrated. Frozen’s going to win the Oscar, though.

  • Mortimer

    Murdoch owns it all. He just doesn’t care when the Simpsons or Family Guy make fun of Fox or Fox News, because they earn him a lot of money

  • Arthur F.

    Well done. This is what Koons does best, the sculptures aren’t the point, it’s his spiel, he has a deadpan approach that lends a certain ‘art’ to his recombinant philo/p.r. speak b.s. script. But so it is. The customers and system of agents who deal and buy his art are the corporate industry (including of course, the entertainment field) he justifies the values of. “Plato’s Cave” – ha, truly inspired. Decades ago, his script was about ‘bourgeois’ values and thus the kitsch / porno works, etc.etc.. It’s well crafted and he executes perfectly, to the point he lives it now. I just recall it didn’t play well when he tried it on the few tv talkshows he got on (Dennis Miller’s attempt for one) but that was another era, the early 90s.

  • SarahJesness

    The Croods recently became available on Netflix streaming so I finally got around to watching it. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, though I wouldn’t call it a great film. The way Koons is describing it… Have you ever been to the TV Tropes page “Worse Than It Sounds”? It’s when people make these epic-sounding summaries for mediocre and bad works. Again, I think The Croods is a good movie, but that’s kind of what his description of the film reminds me of. Pick around at the right details and you can get a decent summary for anything. (you can also do the reverse and make even great works sound like crap)

    • Funkybat

      The effusiveness probably is due to it being “Oscar season” as many folks mentioned above. That possibility hadn’t occurred to me, since Jeff Koons is not an animation artist or even an illustrator, his insights on the film just came out of left field for me. It’s nice to hear what people not connected to the industry think of animated films, but to me his critique is as relevant as would be the comments of Frank Gehry or Philip Glass. But then, maybe the Koons name carries more weight with the Oscar voting “demographic.”

  • Funkybat

    I am not expecting anything at the level of “Lilo & Stitch” any time soon. I feel like that film was almost a matter of sublime fate, bringing together the right team or artists at the right time to make it happen. The only animated movies since then that have even come close to matching the artistic and emotional resonance of L&S for me were “The Incredibles,” “Coraline” and “Wreck-It Ralph.”

  • maxime

    I seriously don’t care what’s this “artist” likes…he doesn’t deserve what he has…he’s just a boring guy in the “art circle” of posh people…