** (out of four)
Do you want to see Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds running around half-naked?
Sorry, you'll have to settle for animated versions of the stars in “The Croods,” a 3-D family adventure that evidently exists to depict the invention of people being smacked in the face. By a boulder. A tree. A stone. A slab. A monkey's fist. If it can comically collide with a person's head, it does in “The Croods.”
Any other jokes involve what an ancient family does and doesn't know, though their command of the English language and puppetry—not to mention their garb sophisticated enough to prevent any accidental up-loincloth shots—doesn't exactly commit to the concept of early man and woman developing from raw to open-minded.
Moody teen (and presumed ancestor of “Brave” redhead Merida) Eep, voiced by Stone, has had it with her dad Grug's (Nicolas Cage) motto of “never not be afraid” and his insistence that their family remain in a cave. She wants to be liberated and see the world. She doesn't seem to have an issue with the term “caveman,” however, as opposed to “cavewoman” or “caveperson.”
As the family tries to survive when their cave crumbles, there's not much story to “The Croods” outside the extremely typical notion of an overprotective parent who needs to let go (hello, “Ice Age” series and many other kids’ movies) and a youngster learning that Dad coddles because he cares. Sculpted, shirtless Guy (Reynolds) catches Eep's eye, leading to routine teenage flirtation, while Grug repeatedly suggests he wants his mother-in-law (Cloris Leachman) dead.
I must have missed what's funny about picking up an old woman, flipping her like a coin and letting her fall on her neck.
Turn off the chirpy dialogue and constantly trumped-up music and the wonderfully animated “The Croods” could be an exhilarating silent feature. The non-human critters, some acting like animals and others like people, bottle all the imagination that didn't go into the plot. (That doesn't include Guy's sloth, Belt, who makes a jokily dramatic “dun-dun-dun!” noise a whopping four times.) “Release the baby!” Grug screams more than once, referencing either the kraken of “Clash of the Titans” or just the hounds.
Either way, someone needs to free kid-friendly movies from the redundant, idea-less attitude that infiltrates almost all non-Pixar efforts, and even recent Pixar ones too. “That's not living! That's just not dying!” cries Eep. Preach on, sister.
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