Stone-age Stereotypes

Nutty Neanderthals don’t make much progress for prehistoric parodies

Eep (Emma Stone) takes in the wonders of her new world in "The Croods."
DreamWorks Animation

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Clark Duke, Randy Thom

Directed by: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders

Stars: 2 1/2 out of 4

Rating: PG

“The Flintstones”: The animated family actually came to theaters in 1966, spinning off from their successful prime-time TV series with “A Man Called Flintstone.” The much-ballyhooed live-action version in 1994, featuring John Goodman and Rick Moranis, was met with poor reviews. Nonetheless, a lower-budget prequel, “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” came out in 2000 starring Mark Addy and Stephen Baldwin; it met with even worse reviews.

“Caveman” (1981): Ringo Starr (yes, <> Ringo Starr), Shelley Long and, inexplicably, Dennis Quaid star in this caveman love-triangle that was soundly panned at the time but has developed a cult following. It's unique in that there's no dialogue, just grunts and made-up caveman words.

“Encino Man” (1992) Brendan Fraser is Link, a caveman found frozen in the backyard of the house where two high school outcasts (Pauly Shore, Sean Astin) live. They thaw him out with predictable results.

“Homo Erectus” (2007): National Lampoon was behind this comedy, also called “Stoned Age,” and like most National Lampoon movies, it focused on low-brow humor.

“The Croods” should quickly earn the distinction of best caveman comedy ever.

When you see what it’s up against, however, that's not particularly high praise.

Unlike everyone’s favorite animated cave-era family, “The Flintstones,” who are a self-billed modern stone-age family, there's absolutely nothing modern about the Croods. They are first-generation human, a fact confirmed by Grandma’s tail.

They live a simple, stark existence, competing with wild animals by day for meager portions of food and holing up at night in their cave to avoid being eaten by nocturnal beasts. Their neighbors have all been wiped out by this harsh existence and they're all that remain. Their mantra is simple: New things are bad and will kill you, so stay away from them.

The Crood family consists of dad Grug (Nicolas Cage), mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), grandma Gran (Cloris Leachman), son Thunk (Clark Duke), daughter Eep (Emma Stone) and baby Sandy (Randy Thom). Only Eep is dissatisfied with their survivalist lifestyle and longs for more.

Their simple world is first upturned by the arrival of Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a more-evolved boy who has discovered fire and who, unlike the Croods, has embraced learning about new things. Eep is intrigued by Guy, but her father wants nothing to do with him.

However, Guy also brings with him the news that they cannot stay in their home because he's been running from earthquakes and volcanoes; they're going to have to run, too. They're forced to go on a road trip with Guy and his pet sloth-like creature, Belt, so they'll have to face countless new things.

A big portion of the film is reminiscent of the popular “Ice Age” movies. Instead of talking animals fleeing from an onslaught of ice and snow, we have a cave family fleeing from falling rocks and rivers of molten lava. Along the way, they have non-stop adventure as well as some self-realization and personal growth.

The humor in “The Croods” is largely predictable and not very original, as they dish out physical comedy, Dad-versus-new-boyfriend bits, endless mother-in-law jokes, and gags about their awe over such simple things as fire and footwear.

The animation lives up to Dreamworks’ standards: The Croods’ world and its creatures are intricate and interesting, and the Croods themselves are quite lifelike. For cartoon cavemen, that is.

Don’t expect to see “The Croods” lining up at the Oscars next year. As DreamWorks animations go, its storyline doesn’t come close to the “Shrek” series, “Madagascar” films or “Kung Fu Panda” movies.

But as harmless family entertainment, the movie is an acceptable Saturday matinee choice. 

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