The Croods: Another Modern Stone Age Family

Admittedly, I went into The Croods with a great deal of skepticism. After all, as a mom, I've been subjected to more than my fair share of Ice Age and Madagascar movies. So no matter how cute the little sloth may be (and Kristin Bell is probably gonna freak when she sees it), I wasn't exactly jumping for joy heading into the theater. But this movie won me over. It started out a little slow, but after they got to the gist of the plot, I was charmed by the actual storyline. Even though it was co-written and directed by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, I'm quite tempted to credit its quality to Sanders -- who made Lilo & Stitch -- and not the dude behind... Space Chimps.

Of course, none of that charm happened in the first 20 minutes or so of the movie, which focused on a needlessly protracted action sequence of the Crood family on the hunt for an egg and had a lot of Nic Cage grunting. He's the disapproving dad, Grug, who is trying to keep his family from being devoured by a wooly mammoth or something, so he forces them to live a sheltered life in a dark cave, only allowing them out for brief hunting excursions. His teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) naturally hates being trapped and longs to see the light. So one night, she sees a glimmer of "the sun" coming through the small opening of their cave and goes out exploring.

She finds Guy (Ryan Reynolds) and he's on his own, but has harnessed the power of fire and even has a pet (the aforementioned adorable sloth named Belt... because he wears him like a belt). He warns Eep that the ground is shifting and that she should seek out safety on higher ground. When she says she can't go, he gives her a seashell she can use as a horn to call him. But before their meet-cute can continue, her fearful father Grug catches her and takes her back home. When Guy's predicted seismic shift comes, the Croods barely escape their barren cave in time and they wind up in a jungle land, forcing Eep to use her prehistoric pager to contact Guy for help. Grug and Guy predictably butt heads as they vie for Eep's affection and deal with their journey to the mythical Tomorrow (a.k.a. a land safe from the earthquakes and lava) that makes up the bulk of the movie.

Not exactly groundbreaking (get it?) material here, but once you get past their odd appearance and Nic Cage's voice, the story is brought to life with some funny jokes about modern society and focuses on a really sweet father-daughter relationship that maybe almost got me a little teary-eyed. While Belt -- with his ominous warnings ("Dun dun dun") and disapproving looks -- was my favorite character, the rest of the Croods pulled their weight as well. Thunk (Clark Duke) is the not-so-bright son who bumbles along, Sandy is the pre-verbal toddler who just chomps at the bit, Ugga (Catherine Keener) is the kindly mom who advises her husband to go easy on their daughter and Grug spends his time trying to off Gran (Cloris Leachman). Sure, the old awful mother-in-law joke might go over the heads of some of the younger audience members, but it's a classic for a reason.

While this movie was about a hundred times more enjoyable than the last Madagascar movie, my big fear is that DreamWorks is going to sequelize it to death, and that each installment will become more and more like The Flintstones and I'll grow to dread seeing Belt the same way that I dread seeing Scrat from Ice Age at this point. But if it does well (and judging by the reaction of the kids in attendance, I think it may), I wouldn't be surprised to see more. At least a sloth saying "dun-dun-dun" is cuter than a lemur proclaiming "I like to move it, move it."

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