Dreamworks Pictures goes Stone Age on audiences with this kid-friendly, if formulaic, adventure that sees a family of cave people venturing out into a changing world, where dangers and wonders await them.
It’s one million years B.C., or even earlier, and the continents are breaking off from one another. This means that massive earthquakes are the order of the day, but the Croods -- a cave-dwelling family that spends most of its time hiding from the dangers that loom on every side and emerge only to forage for food -- don’t know this. Not until adventurous daughter Eep (Emma Stone) leaves the cave one night to chase what she thinks is a stray bit of sunlight; this turns out to be a torch wielded by a wandering stranger named Guy (Ryan Reynolds).
When Papa Crood, a super-strong fellow named Grug (Nicolas Cage) finds out that his daughter has been talking to strangers and entertaining new ideas, like fire, he freaks. What else is he supposed to do? Anything unfamiliar is dangerous; for that matter, most familiar things are dangerous, too. Imagination and curiosity are bad, because they invite tragedy: It says so right on the cave walls, where the family’s lore is spelled out in glyphs (most of which are stamped over with a red handprint meaning, "This will get you killed").
But Guy has a few useful ideas, including the suggestion that the Croods migrate to safer ground. So they stuff him in a log and tote him along into a colorful new realm of exotic animals and, they hope, a safe new cave beyond the reach of massive earthquakes.
The animators have knocked themselves out creating a whole zoology of whimsical creatures. Flocks of flying half-turtle / half parrot things share the sky with clouds of carnivorous red birds; the underbrush is ridden with saber-toothed rabbits; the family are stalked by a rainbow-colored tiger.
This clan is less Flintstones than Bundys, given Grug’s venomous relationship with mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman), who swaps thumps and insults with gusto. Catherine Keener provides the voice of Ugga, Grug’s wife; Clark Duke voices son Thunk.
The characters pretty much fall into pre-fabricated categories: Ugga is the voice of reason, Thunk is dumb, Eep and Guy are clearly heading for a romantic entanglement, and Grug doesn’t like change one bit -- especially not his daughter’s impending womanhood. But playing with, and within, stereotype gives the writers and the cast a certain creative latitude that offers occasional inspired surprises.
"The Croods" is as full of frolic and visual snap as we’ve come to expect from CGI animation. Inventive camerawork and a vivid color palette keep youthful eyes engaged, while the family’s concerns for survival (and internal power dynamics) will speak to parents.