Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled The Croods

In the animated adventure-comedy The Croods, the eponymous family of Neanderthals is forced to leave the relative safety of their cave, where they’ve successfully dodged the adapt-or-die proposition that has wiped off their equally less evolved neighbors. As they make their way into the wider world, with all its attendant dangers and wonders, there’s never any question where the film stands in the conflict between ignorance and knowledge, security and open-mindedness, living life to its fullest and doing everything possible not to die. And yet the film itself doesn’t practice what it preaches: From the typically blocky DreamWorks CGI to the emphasis on bruising slapstick over verbal wit, The Croods takes the low road at every opportunity, giving lip service to enlightenment while following a Flintstonian instinct to keep punching the clock at the quarry. Still, the fact that it constantly undermines its own message doesn’t entirely diminish its base appeal.

A breathless opening hunt sets the tone, as the Croods, a family of six led by fear-mongering patriarch Grug (voiced by a lively Nicolas Cage), seek sustenance from a giant bird egg and wind up in a routine fight for their lives. Left mostly defenseless against exotic foes—fire is not yet part of their repertoire—Grug, his wife (Catherine Keener), his mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman), and his three children hole up in a cave most of the time, cowed by their predators. But Grug’s teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) proves more adventurous, and her resolve deepens when she meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a young man several notches up on the evolutionary scale. When their home is destroyed, the Croods follow Guy across an uncertain landscape toward the land of “tomorrow,” whatever that may be.

Because it already cheats by having a humanoid dude like Guy co-exist with cavemen, The Croods smartly severs all connection to prehistory by inventing exotic creatures (an ankle-high stampede of elephants, a flock of parrot-like birds that attack like a school of piranha) and sending the characters through a variety of storybook landscapes. The rivalry between the dumb-but-protective Grug and the clever-but-smug Guy is a little predictable, but co-writers/directors Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders have a talent for evading problems with montages, like a snappy sequence that contrasts Grug and Guy’s approaches to problem-solving. In that case and others, The Croods makes up in barreling speed what it lacks in smarts.