Caveman Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) dispenses a relentless stream of stodgy advice:
By JON NICCUM
The Kansas City Star
Fear keeps us alive.
New is always bad.
Ideas are for weaklings.
As daughter Eep (Emma Stone) interprets it, she must avoid basically, anything thats fun.
A plucky, independent girl going against the wishes of her traditional parents is the cornerstone of many a Disney project. But the inventive and entertaining The Croods, from DreamWorks Animation, finds a fresh perspective on this Stone Age tale.
Eeps world appears nothing like The Flintstones, where every modern convenience is available in a primitive format. No, this is a brutal place where the few human survivors decked in animal skins and sloping foreheads spend their days foraging for food and nights huddled behind a boulder that seals their cave.
Eep feels the pangs of rebellion, although her family which also includes loyal mom Ugga (Catherine Keener) and battle-weary Gran (Cloris Leachman) is resigned to the lifestyle. But an encounter with a more evolved nomad named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) changes everything. He has discovered fire.
What follows is an exciting, often emotional road movie as Guy leads this overprotective clan away from a geothermal catastrophe that is threatening their homeland. Grug learns that innovation is not evil, while Eep embraces the power of family.
The kooky Cage, representing the voice of authority for a change, creates a marvelous character. Hes part Mr. Incredible, part Homer Simpson; hes a great warrior limited by his own inflexibility. The film proves the Oscar winner can still supply a captivating presence when paired with the right material and not just riding another forgettable action vehicle.
The screenplay by writer-directors Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco (with story contributions by Monty Python alum John Cleese) is brimming with clever touches. Fire proves a confusing concept for this sheltered family. The flame seems alive, but its not living. It provides warmth and safety against predators but is dangerous to the touch. The scene gets played for comedy, yet it also works as both mystery and drama.
The movies real strength the game-changer when compared to similar animated projects is the production design headed by Christopher Lautrette. Virtually every creature, insect or plant seems unique to this colorful environment. Many are Dr. Moreau-type combinations of two species: owl-headed bears, piranha-toothed birds, lizard-tailed hyenas, parrot-tinted tigers.
This creativity applies to the humans as well, particularly Eep. How refreshing to have an animated heroine whos built more like a Raggedy Ann than a Barbie. With Stones trademark raspy voice, Eep comes across as the survivalist warrior that she inevitably would have to be to persevere in this fearsome setting.
Shes rugged from the start a strong opening scene in which the brood performs a covert operation to secure breakfast. Theyre among many carnivores attempting to pilfer the same giant egg, resulting in a ravenous free-for-all like a prehistoric version of capture the flag all scored to an instrumental version of Fleetwood Macs Tusk.
The Croods maintains that same spirited energy, turning a potentially low-brow concept into a highly amusing family adventure.