The descendants of the Croods, our lead prehistoric family, may have invented the wheel, but this film certainly isn’t going to reinvent it. A somewhat familiar animated tale—complete with slobbering dogs and loutish male relatives—The Croods overcomes its standard daddy-daughter story with lively visuals and Nicolas Cage.
Through disease and dinosaur attacks, the Croods have managed to survive by hiding in their cave. The family patriarch, Grug (Cage), is less a fearless leader and more a fear-mongering one, warning his brood that “new is always bad” and “darkness brings death” as he ushers them into the cave night after night. For Eep (Emma Stone), this semi-subterranean life of fear is getting increasingly too small. As her red-hair suggests—welcome to the Brave new world—Eep’s fiery curiosity gets the best of her. Sneaking out of the cave one night, she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who warns her that the end of the world is approaching. On cue, a seismic shift destroys the Croods’ cave, so they join Guy on a quest to “get to tomorrow,” embarking on the first-ever family road trip.
Cage’s first voice role since 2009’s Astro Boy and G-Force, his distinctive drawl and almost-off intonation makes for jokes that adults will enjoy. (“Pass me those acting sticks,” he demands of Guy after they make decoy puppets, summarizing his entire career.) Written by veteran animation screenwriter Chris Sanders (whose classics include Aladdin, The Lion King, and Mulan) and Kirk De Micco, Cage enlivens the script with humour that goes beyond cartoonish slapstick. Though an awkward last act shift makes Grug the focus of the film instead of Eep (her father literally tosses her out of the frame as the camera stays with him), Cage’s consistent comedic chops—intentional or not—make this transition more bearable.
Visually, The Croods moves far beyond Saturday morning cartoons, relishing in an imaginative world that isn’t constrained by realism. Though starting out in what appears to be our pre-ice age planet, we’re quickly introduced to a wild re-imagining of flora and fauna closer to an LSD trip than one to the museum. Vibrant and stylistically composed, it’s not surprising Roger Deakins is credited as a visual consultant. The legendary cinematography brings the same touch he applied to Rango, rendering what appears to be familiar but slightly unknown. While the 3D gimmicks of riffing on splashing water and roaring fires remain, the cast of eccentric creatures balances this out. The Croods is slight, to be sure, but it has a certain charm and artistry that’s anything but crude.