Cavemen -- they're just like us! -- or so "The Croods" seems to be saying with its familiar mix of generational clashes, coming-of-age milestones and generally relatable laughs.
The animated adventure features a strong, star-studded cast and dazzles visually in wondrously colorful, vibrant 3-D, but the script doesn't pop off the screen quite so effectively. The overly facile message here is: Trying new things is good. It's a useful notion for kids in the crowd to chew on, but their older companions may be longing for something more substantive. Still, "The Croods" is both brisk and beautiful and should be sufficiently entertaining for family audiences for whom few such options exist these days.
Her dad, Grug (Nicolas Cage), is especially protective, neurotically worrying about every possible unknown and urging the same sort of apprehension in everyone else, including his supportive wife, Ugga (an underused Catherine Keener), and doltish 9-year-old son, Thunk (Clark Duke). ("Never not be afraid," is one of dad's favorite sayings.) There's
One day, Eep dares to escape while everyone else is sleeping and meets up with the hottest (and only) guy she's ever seen. Conveniently, he's named Guy, and he's voiced by Ryan Reynolds. He has a furry, impossibly cute companion named Belt who holds up his pants (kids will dig this tiny scene-stealer). But he also astonishes her with something she's never seen before called fire. Guy warns that the world is ending and that she should come with him if she wants to live. When her family's cave is destroyed, they reluctantly realize they must all go with Guy. This sets up: a) some basic, tried-and-true road trip jokes and b) a blossoming romance between Guy and Eep, which dad naturally tries to stifle.
The themes aren't exactly groundbreaking from co-writers and directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco (with John Cleese sharing a story-by credit, having been a part of early drafts of the script),
But the oohs, ahhs and scattered laughs come from the various creatures the Croods discover along their journey, including the hungry, hot-pink piranha birds, the upside-down pear bears and the fearsome bear owls. Much of the lush landscape and vivid details feel as if they were taken directly from "Avatar," and a similar sense of wonder propels these stronger segments. The lighting can indeed be magical, so it's no surprise that we are urged over and over again to step into it.
* * ½
Rating: PG (for some scary action)
Voice cast: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Catherine Keener
Director: Chris Sanders
and Kirk DeMicco
Running time: 1 hour,