Far from the “Ice Age with humans” pitch made by the film’s ad campaign or being a Flintstones knock-off, The Croods is an exceptional family adventure that rises above a plot cribbed from countless Disney films to create something special. It’s a funny, vibrant, and surprisingly thoughtful and sincere effort from the makers of the equally great How to Train Your Dragon with action scenes as good as anything that wowed audiences in Rango.
Somewhere between the Stone Age and the breaking apart of the continents, a family of cavemen, women, and kids believe themselves to be the only surviving humans left in a dangerous and hostile world. Father Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) is a worrywart who insists his clan only leave their cave as a group during the day and never at night. This sedentary lifestyle greatly irks young woman Eep (Emma Stone), who yearns for action and adventure. When she escapes one night, she runs into a soothsaying master of “modern” gadgets (Ryan Reynolds) and a friendship-slash-romance blooms, much to the chagrin of old school Papa Grug. After their cave is destroyed in a tectonic plate shifting quake, they are forced to rely on Eep’s smart-alecky friend to get them to safety.
On paper, instead of a typical caveman or ancient story arc, writer/directors Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco (working from a story penned in part by John Cleese) are aiming for a classical Disney sort of arc from the 90s. A rebellious daughter breaks away from her father and turns out to be right. There’s nothing particularly original or shocking there, but the true joy that can be gained from the film comes from how that story is being told, what is being said, and how the people are saying it.
There’s nary a pop culture reference to be found, with all of the humour coming from genuinely sharp dialogue delivered by actors getting fully used to get the most out of their individual talents. Reynolds hasn’t had a role this great or this warm hearted in quite some time, and his chemistry to Stone (who clearly sounds like she’s having a blast as an animated heroine) isn’t syrupy sweet or saccharine. As for Cage, he’s a great sport and Sanders and De Micco even give him room for a scene that would be a classic Cageian meltdown in a live action film. Around the periphery, Catherine Keener does solid work as the mother, Clark Duke is suitably lunkheaded as Eep’s doofus brother getting arguably the biggest laughs in the film next to Cage, and Cloris Leachman’s grandmother gives some of the best punchlines and throw away moments. It’s the perfect ensemble for this kind of story, and they’re definitely elevating everything around them beyond average family fare.
The Croods is also a great film in its own right, with large scale action set pieces that bridge the gaps in the story nicely, especially a genuinely thrilling opening chase sequence that in any other film would suggest an early peak. The film never really stages another action beat that grandly, instead focusing on the comedy and drama at the heart of the characters, but thanks to the input visual consultant and veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins there’s always something wondrous to view on screen.
The Croods is certainly the best family film so far this year thanks to a lack of options, but thankfully it’s also one of the funniest and most engaging overall. It’s a great time for families, fans of the voice cast, or anyone else who has just generally let down by an otherwise lacklustre year at the multiplex.