Throw in the Yabba-Dabba Doo domesticity of The Flintstones and a sprinkling of Ice Age cutesiness and you’re well on your way to summing up DreamWorks Animation’s latest.
The discovery of perfectly preserved cave paintings in France dating back more than 30,000 years ago could well have acted as the springboard for The Croods.
A smart montage of crude cave drawings is used at the start of the film to illustrate rebellious Eep’s (voiced by Emma Stone) narration explaining the reasons why her overprotective father Grug (Nicolas Cage) insists the family “never leave the cave”, while Grug uses the cave walls to sketch out the stories he tells the clan every night.
Despite Grug’s best efforts to shield his family from the dangers of the outside world, an earthquake destroys the cave and leaves them with little choice but to explore the world beyond. As they try to find a new home, they are joined by the smart, but lonely Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who is convinced the world as they know it is coming to an end and the only way to avoid certain death is to reach a distant mountain.
The one major problem with The Croods is, well, the Croods themselves. The family are made up of such generic stereotypes – anxious, overbearing father, understanding mother, inquisitive daughter, dumb son, unruly baby and annoying mother-in-law – they could be flat-packed and reassembled into any movie, animated or otherwise.
Much like Grug, the team behind the film (randomly, John Cleese is credited as one of the team behind the story) insist on playing it safe instead of trying something original or daring.
We’re used to seeing impressive visuals in computer-generated animations these days, but The Croods is particularly stunning and a big reason for this can probably be put down to Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins being drafted in as ‘visual consultant’.
The use of fire (and the look of bewilderment, confusion and fear on Eep and co’s faces when they first set eyes on it) is beautifully rendered, while the moment the characters stare up in wonder at a perfectly clear galaxy of stars (for the family this is the first time they have seen a night sky) is breathtaking.
Aimed more squarely at tweens and below, there are enough cute animals (in particular Guy’s pet sloth Belt) to keep kids entertained, although adults will struggle to find much to latch onto.
The characters themselves are slightly exaggerated versions of humanity (even allowing for the fact they’re neanderthals) in the way that so many animations are, while Eep’s appearance (and feisty nature) is remarkably similar to that of Merida from Pixar’s Brave, right down to the big red hair.
Cage brings his usual manic energy to patriarch Grug (this being an animated film, the kids are spared his mad staring eyes and loony grin), and Stone and Reynolds work nicely off each other as the hormonal teenagers whose inquisitiveness regularly lands the clan in danger.
The Croods may be prehistoric when it comes to offering up anything even vaguely original, but there’s just about enough here to make their animated antics an entertaining diversion.