By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - After the failure of "Rise of the Guardians," DreamWorks Animation desperately needs a hit, so the studio has a lot riding on "The Croods."
The prehistoric animated film features the voices of Nicolas Cage and Emma Stone and lands in theaters on Friday. Most critics enjoyed the film, although a few reviewers groused that it failed to achieve the emotional highpoints of classic children's movies like "Toy Story" and "Up."
"The Croods" received a respectable 61 percent "fresh" rating on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. It may not be as revolutionary as the discovery of fire, but from the sound of most reviews it makes for a perfectly diverting, family friendly hour and a half at the multiplex.
TheWrap's Alonso Duralde hailed the film for applying a light touch to the Stone Age antics and for playfully sending up teenage angst by setting its central father-daughter conflict against an early man backdrop.
"After the dreary 'Ice Age' movies made Pangaea tedious and stridently unfunny, it's a thrill to get a movie that gives tectonic shift a good name," Duralde wrote. "This new effort from writer-directors Chris Sanders (co-director of 'How to Train Your Dragon' and 'Lilo & Stitch') and Kirk De Micco ('Space Chimps') offers genuine comedy and compelling characters with dazzling visuals that feature both imaginary beasts (carnivorous birds, a candy-colored saber-toothed cat) and moments that approach photo-realism."
Neil Genzlinger complained in the New York Times that the film's plot is burdened with cliches, though he enjoyed the animation and the voice cast's work.
"The movie is at its most interesting and amusing when riffing on how cavemen might have reacted to new experiences and ideas, like fire and shoes," Genzlinger wrote. "Whether the kiddies will appreciate that is unclear, but they'll certainly like the voice work done by Emma Stone as Eep. She puts refreshing spunk into a character who otherwise is, alas, doomed to follow the same old story line."
Kyle Smith in the New York Post hated Cage's vocalization almost as much as Genzlinger adored Stone's performance. Though to be fair, that was hardly his only gripe.
"I'd like to take back all those times I said Nicolas Cage was one of the most annoying actors on film. It turns out he's equally terrible when he's only on the soundtrack," Smith wrote in a one-star review. "And yet Cage is the least of the problems with 'The Croods,' an animated comedy about cavemen whose writers took things a little too literally when they were told to write Cro-Magnon humor."
The Associated Press' Christy Lemire found delight in many of the same elements where Smith found disdain. She praised the film as brisk even if the plot is overly familiar. In particular, Lemire was dazzled by the animated picture's use of 3D imagery.
"Much of the lush landscape and vivid details feel as if they were taken directly from 'Avatar,' and a similar sense of wonder propels these stronger segments," Lemire wrote. "The lighting can indeed be magical, so it's no surprise that we are urged over and over again to step into it."
For Keith Staskiewicz of Entertainment Weekly, "The Croods" falls pretty far down the animated film evolutionary ladder.
"A handful of adrenalizing sequences of animated anarchy can't save this story from feeling overly primitive," he wrote.