“The Croods,” Nicolas Cage’s new kid friendly flick, is set in a time when cave drawings were considered high tech, but despite its paleontological roots, it feels very modern. It may be about a family of cavemen and women—imagine “The Flintstones” without the brontosaurus ribs—but the 3D animation is state-of-the-art and you don’t need to be an anthropologist to get the father-and-daughter story. It’s only the mother-in-law jokes that feel almost as prehistoric as the characters.
Cage voices Grug, a caveman dad with some Neanderthal ideas about how to protect his family. “No one said survival is fun,” he grunts. His teenage daughter Eep (voice of Emma Stone), however, wants something more from her life than hiding in a cave and surviving. Sneaking out of the family grotto one night she meets Guy (voice of Ryan Reynolds), a caveboy with good looks and a brain—he invents fire, belts, shoes and other necessities of life!—who warns her that a colossal change is coming.
The news does not go down well with Grug and his “Anything new is bad,” attitude until the earth begins to split, their cave is destroyed and they are forced to follow Guy to higher ground. Their journey takes them through a changing world where they’re no longer the top of the food chain and must learn to adapt or die.
OK, adapt or die sounds pretty heavy for a kid’s film, but the movie is about how facing adversity actually brings this family closer together. There are other messages wedged in there—adapting is good, acceptance is better and loyalty is best—but the movie uses run-ins with ancient animals—fanciful kid friendly creatures—to entertain the eye and get its main idea across.
It’s chock-a-block with beautiful images. Eep’s introduction to fire is gorgeous, as is the new landscape created with every eruption of the earth. There’s loads of caveman comedy and Paleolithic physical action—apparently cavemen invented Parkour—and it contains the best self-aware line Nicolas Cage has ever uttered on screen—“Hand me those acting sticks!”
The family dynamic works, although Grug’s ambivalence to his mother-in-law’s (voice of Cloris Leachman) survival seems like a relic from another era. “The Croods” does err on the side of sentimentality near the end—even cavemen have feelings!—but to quote the theme song from another stone-age family cartoon, you’ll still “have a yabbadabba-doo time, a dabba-doo time” with Grug and his clan.
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