Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Chris Sanders, Randy Thom
Director: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Set in prehistoric times, 'The Croods' is what you might describe as "Ice Age with Humans". The film's message - that being adaptable is the key to one's survival - is conveyed through the story of a close-knit family of cave dwellers.
Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) is the over-protective patriarch of a tiny Neanderthal clan who insists they stay huddled together in their cave, so they don't risk being eaten alive by wild animals outside. His rebellious teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) is desperate to explore the world, and she finally gets her chance when the family is forced to abandon their home in the wake of a deadly earthquake. Their guide, as they set out on an adventure to find a new place to live, is a fearless young man named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who has discovered this cool new thing called "fire".
Working from a script that John Cleese originally contributed to, writer-director team Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders deliver a film that's visually inventive, and occasionally brimming with originality. 'The Croods' covers familiar themes like embracing the unknown, the generation gap, and parental sacrifice, and while it's all done with a light hand and plenty of cheap laughs, it never soars with great ideas like so many Pixar films do.
Yet it helps that the film's pacing is brisk, the candy-coloured animation first-rate, and most set-pieces exhilarating, particularly a terrific early sequence in which the family makes a furious and coordinated chase for breakfast, dodging the predators that loom over their heads.
Expectedly Cage and Stone (who pull off the father-daughter number with such energy) do most of the heavy lifting here, but the makers also give us an ensemble of quirky characters including Grug's long-suffering wife, his shrew-like mother-in-law, a lunkish son, and my favourite - their incoherent toddler, who is the family's secret weapon. More imagination appears to have gone into creating the film's Avatar-like critters that combine the features of different animals, and swoop around majestically, as if exploiting the 3D.
Simplistic, yet funny in generous doses and even occasionally moving, 'The Croods' has enough to entertain young audiences. I'm going with three out of five and a recommendation to take the kids.