Directors: Kirk DeMicco, Chris Sanders
Voices of: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone
3 (out of 5) Globes
The takeaway lesson from the animated caveman saga is one about not being afraid to be curious and take chances. If this advice eludes you, you must have been sleeping, as it’s everywhere: in the very plot — about a family of frightened prehistoric Neanderthals forced to abandon their dank but safe cave home during a series of earthquakes — and in every tenth, sometimes every third, line of dialogue.
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Emma Stone gives voice to a restless teen in a family who speak in an anachronistically modern vernacular, even though they still have names like “Grug” and “Ugga.” Stone’s Eep happens upon an advanced guy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), whose superior intellect proves useful when they’re forced to relocate, much to the wigged-out consternation of their noble but wildly overprotective patriarch (Nicolas Cage).
John Cleese has a story credit, but not a screenwriting one, and it’s impossible to detect the former Monty Pythoner — much less the author of “A Fish Called Wanda” — anywhere in this family friendly chase movie with homilies. Did Cleese submit a much crazier script only for it to be declawed in the pre-production process? Almost certainly.
But it’s not bad. When not needlessly underlining and italicizing and putting in bold its token message, “The Croods” is often surprisingly loopy, even beautiful. As our family travel to new locales, the animators let loose their imagination. Bizarre animals and fauna abound, from flying, hot red piranha that descend upon and whittle down animals to the bone, and flowers with tongues.
At its best, which isn’t often enough, “The Croods” comes closer than any recent animated film to the freewheeling invention of classic mainstream animation, reminiscent (or reminiscent enough) of Disney Golden Age legend Ward Kimball. When it’s not crazy it’s at least gorgeous, with photorealistic vistas willed into life in part by Coen Brothers’ usual cinematographer, Roger Deakins, billed, as he was on “WALL-E,” as “visual consultant.”
The rest is merely more amusing/entertaining than it should be, with brief passages of inspiration peppered about the pat lessons about courage and the importance of family. Even the often-bored Cage seems at least somewhat inspired: he doesn’t affect a ridiculous accent, as he does when he’s really wound up, but he’s appropriately jazzed as a father who means well but, like the film itself, keeps clubbing people over the head with a message.