I suppose it's easy to dismiss the cinematic recommendations of a Nicolas Cage apologist like me. In the world of normal people who like normal movies that provide normal amounts of quality entertainment, he's treated as something of a joke. And yeah, he did that to himself by choosing to star in Next and Knowing and Season of the Witch and Trespass and Ghost Rider, only to turn around and star in Werner Herzog's contemporary masterpiece of cocaine-cop-damage Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call -- New Orleans. He's isn't just confusing. He is confusion itself.

And seriously, thank whatever you worship for that confusion. There's almost nothing more painful to see in a trailer for an upcoming film than the words, "starring Academy Award-winner [insert name of some other actor who isn't Academy Award-winner Nicolas Cage]." You're pretty much guaranteed that the movie in question is going to be a major drag. Unless it stars Cage. He's got Transylvanian castle repairs and billions in debt and a hairpiece room to maintain and he doesn't care what you think.

All of that to say that if you happen to be that aforementioned normal filmgoer who likes it better when Cage is behaving like he lives on the same planet as the rest of us then you'll have a genuine reason to see The Croods, with or without children to chaperone you. It's the Ice Age that isn't terrible and Cage, as the voice of papa caveman Grug, delivers his most interesting, energized, mainstream performance since... well, since I forget.

Grug is a hunter-protector-worrier. "Never not be afraid" is his motto, one he repeats over and over to his increasingly skeptical cave-family. He makes them hide in that cave for hours and hours, guarding them like a tightly wound cat, focused intently on their survival when all the other cavepeople have been crushed by wooly mammoths or eaten by giant reptiles. But Grug's teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone, who must have been some sort of winking, Fruity Pebbles-inspired stunt casting for her name alone) is feeling the itch of young adulthood. She wants to live outside the cave and explore their increasingly cataclysmic world (Pangaea is breaking up) and she especially wants to explore it with her new male friend, the adventurous, fire-making, shoe-wearing, cave-teen Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Grug hates Guy.

What comes next is predictable cartoon lesson-service set against the backdrop of outrunning a disintegrating land mass: face your prejudice and fear of the unknown, be brave, evolve, take care of each other and value those relationships. Nothing ParaNorman didn't already cover. But because it's guided by the reliable hand of Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon), the visuals pop with beautiful color, the 3D swoops and soars, the characters breathe with recognizable emotion and nothing feels labored or forced or fake.

And yes, I realize that I'm telling you to accept that there is intelligence, warmth and humanity in what is essentially a contemporary Flintstones remake. But that's what this is, a more-evolved prehistoric family comedy. Starring the man who urinated fire in the second Ghost Rider. Face your prejudice.


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