Twas ever so and will always be: Teenage girls are convinced that their fathers are from another era and will never understand the new and exciting changes going on in the world. And in “The Croods,” dad literally falls a few steps behind on the evolutionary ladder, while the world really is changing, complete with lava, earthquakes and continental drift.
After the dreary “Ice Age” movies made Pangaea tedious and stridently unfunny, it’s a thrill to get a movie that gives tectonic shift a good name. This new effort from writer-directors Chris Sanders (co-director of “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Lilo & Stitch”) and Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) offers genuine comedy and compelling characters with dazzling visuals that feature both imaginary beasts (carnivorous birds, a candy-colored sabre-toothed cat) and moments that approach photo-realism.
The titular stone-age family is led by Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage), whose motto is, “Never not be afraid.” Between the bleakness of the landscape and the plethora of hungry beasts populating it, one could understand Grug’s wariness of the world. (“Still alive!” is what the family cries out in unison at the dawn of each day.) But teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) has begun to chafe at dad’s alarmism and wants to start exploring the big, scary world.
She sneaks out of the cave one night when she witnesses something dazzling, which turns out to be fire, carried aloft by Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who’s clearly closer to Homo erectus than the jutting-brow Croods.
Grug wants nothing to do with this slick visitor and his new ways, but after an earthquake destroys the family cave, the Croods — including mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), nerdy son Thunk (Clark Duke), feral daughter Sandy (Randy Thorn) and salty Gran (Cloris Leachman) — have no choice but to follow Guy into a different world that offers color, splendor…and even more danger.
This material could have easily fallen into sitcom clichés with a heaping scoop of anachronism jokes on the side, but “The Croods” takes these characters and their situation seriously enough to make the story matter. When Eep chastises the ever-vigilant Grug for mistaking “not dying” for “living,” it’s a genuinely powerful moment, one that you might not expect to find in a cartoon aimed at audiences of all ages.
The cast is terrific — Cage hasn’t been this intentionally funny in eons — and the directors know how to stage the small stuff (throw-away jokes turn out to be set-ups for bigger punch lines later on) as well as elaborately staged sequences, like a food-gathering mission in which the theft of an egg turns into a football scrimmage in which the Croods must maintain possession despite the efforts of fellow predators (not to mention the miffed mama bird).
“The Croods” is making its way into theaters without a great deal of fanfare, but it’s a solidly produced and thoroughly entertaining animated feature that won’t club you over the head with its ideas.