“The Croods” is an ABC sitcom that somehow got turned into a cartoon and released in movie theaters. It’s about a family of cavemen: barrel-chested, authoritative father Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage); long-suffering, secretly-the-smart-one mother Ugga (Catherine Keener); individualist teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone); thick-headed son Thunk (Clark Duke); a zany baby; and a cantankerous mother-in-law, Gran (Cloris Leachman), who’s always at odds with her daughter’s husband. (Allow me to underscore this point: this movie has mother-in-law jokes.)
Under Grug’s leadership, the Croods live by a simple code: always be afraid of everything, especially new things, because there is a good chance they will kill you. Eep chafes against this, seeks freedom, wanders off, meets a slightly more evolved guy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) who has a thing called “fire” — and presto, the stage is set for a classic battle between old and new, grown-up and young, traditionalism and modernism.
The scenario isn’t very promising (it’s awfully familiar, no?), but the execution has its charms, and “The Croods” is often goofily funny. Written and directed by Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”), the film’s original story and early drafts were penned by John Cleese — yes, that John Cleese. Hints of what must have been a more subversive and satirical story occasionally emerge in the form of unsubtle brains-vs-brawn showdowns, as when Grug, the ignorance-is-bliss patriarch who is suspicious of learning says, “We don’t need brains! We have these (meaning his muscles)! Ideas are for weaklings!”
Marvelously animated with a rich palette of bright colors, and featuring a menagerie of creatively designed prehistoric birds and mammals (land whales! elephant mice!), the film gets by on its high spirits and good intentions. The family will enjoy it much as they would have enjoyed a marathon of “Full House” in the T.G.I.F. heyday.
B- (1 hr., 38 min.; )