Film review: The Croods

The Croods

(PG) ***

Director: Kirk DeMicco, Chris Sanders.

Cast: (voices of) Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman.

SCHOOL holidays are usually a time when you put away the learning books and break out the fun, which makes The Croods the perfect school holiday.

That's because despite being set in prehistoric times and focusing on a family of Neanderthals, you won't learn anything about life 100,000 years ago, but you may enjoy yourself.

This is the latest computer-animated feature from Dreamworks Animation, who have been on a winning streak of great family films lately (their last five films are Megamind, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots, Madagascar 3, and Rise Of The Guardians).

The Croods is a weird cross-blend of familiar ideas, where a Flintstones-like family goes on an Ice Age 4-type adventure through an Avatar-esque world.They are led by Grug (Cage), whose motto of "never not be afraid" has kept his family alive and secluded in a cave. 

But the curiousity of his eldest daughter Eep (Stone), combined with a serious case of continental drift, means The Croods are about to discover there's a great big world outside the dark hole they call home.History gets replaced with fantasy in this version of prehistoric Earth, which is populated by turtlebirds, owl cats, piranhabirds, giant sabre-tooth kittens, mouse-aphants, and crocodogs. 

It's a weird world but it generates a sense of wonder via its lush animation.

Equally fantastical is the movie's portrayal of its prehistoric humanoids. One minute, The Croods are presented as being like animals, the next they're discussing their feelings and emotions, and behaving like a thoroughly modern version of mankind.Less uneven is the film's sense of humour and adventure. 

It barrels along at a solid pace, stopping appropriately for its emotional notes, but all the while embracing a bone-breaking level of slapstick. 

Luckily these characters are seemingly impervious to all injuries and accidents, including falling from great heights and being crushed by giant rocks... repeatedly. 

This does take some of the sense of danger out of the film, but does provide some good laughs.

Nic Cage's distinctive delivery is slightly distracting, but there is humour to be had from Stone's Eep, love interest Guy (Reynolds) and his cute pet sloth called Belt, and the comic sidekick grandma (Leachman).

It's this knack for laughs and a rollicking good time that helps the film overcome its deficiencies, which also include a distractingly over-the-top score from Alan Silvestri. 

Another plus is the strong characters, who cover up for the movie being too ludicrous in places. If only the film had been brave enough to go for the super-powerful, stick-in-the-memory ending that it flirts with instead of the silly way out it took, then we might have had something truly worthy on our hands. Instead, this is just uneven fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

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