Rated PG for some scary action.
Starring (voices of) Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Chris Sanders, Randy Thom.
Written and directed by Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco.
Don’t judge “The Croods” by its title.
DreamWorks’ latest movie, which follows a family of cavemen through a mythical land as they journey to safe ground, is mercifully free of the crudeness its unfortunately punny name suggests. Instead, it’s a sweet fairy tale about the power of family, full of gorgeous visuals and subtler humor than many kid-friendly offerings.
The story starts at the titular family’s home cave, where they spend their nights crammed together so none of the enormous wild animals outside will eat them. Naturally, the oldest daughter wants more than to hide forever, and gets her wish when an unspecified cataclysm decimates the family cave.
The same cataclysm is destroying all the land around them, but a new young man promises there is safe land in the distance. They all travel there, discovering more about themselves along the way.
The classic journey tale has been around for so long that the cavemen themselves probably told each other some version of it around the campfire. “The Croods” doesn’t vary the traditional arc, but it hits all the high points with a sensitivity and charm that reminds audiences why the tale is such a classic in the first place. One of the most significant signs of growing up is that you understand other people better, and the movie manages to give pretty much everyone a little bit of that insight.
The voice cast is uniformly good, with Cloris Leachman and Emma Stone bringing a welcome touch of dry humor to their characters. Ryan Reynolds has his usual charm, and the movie also gives him a tender side. Even Nicholas Cage, who these days is better known as an Internet joke than an actual actor, comes off as a warm, believable human being.
Naturally, there are the expected slapstick jokes Р this is a kid’s movie, after all Р but they’re integrated into the movie far more naturally than usual. Some, including a sequence with a lady tiger made out of fruit, are actually pretty cute.
And if you don’t like a joke, you can always stare at the scenery. “The Croods” abandons even the cartoon outlines of prehistory, freeing animators’ imaginations to create a world far more magical than the one found in the “Ice Age” franchise. Instead of wooly mammoths, there are mammoth mice, owl bears, flying turtles, land whales, and birds with fish tails. Even if the movie hadn’t been good, I could have had plenty of fun ogling all of the flourishes they put into the world.
That same attention to detail pops up in other areas of the movie as well. It’s clear that a great deal of thought has been put into the Crood’s biology, including extra-long arms that give them their four-limbed running technique. The geography doesn’t make nearly as much sense, but the field of enormous carnivorous flowers is too cool to quibble over details.
Which is why I’ll forgive them for a title that doesn’t live up to the movie.