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‘The Croods’ is funny with a heart of gold

Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 12:31 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 1:01 p.m. CST

In recent years, DreamWorks has been keen to take on the ever-growing Disney empire by producing higher-quality animation that can compete with the likes of Pixar and Disney’s signature animation studios in quantities to be just as profitable.

Sometimes, it strikes gold (e.g. “Madagascar,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda”). But, it also has the danger of tanking badly (e.g. “Antz” and “Shark Tale”). So, when the studio announced arguably its most ambitious year ever for 2013, there were a lot of folks who wondered if it was going to be able to pull it off.

In addition to its latest release, “The Croods” — more on that in a moment — DreamWorks is set to release two more potential blockbusters this year: “Turbo” and a feature film based on the old “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” skits. And, expect three animated features a year from the studio for the foreseeable future.

After the disaster that was “Rise of the Guardians,” DreamWorks investors were probably sweating a little more profusely about “The Croods,” which had a wide target audience and an A-list voice cast. Those fears should be relieved this weekend when the studio’s latest hit overtakes the reining box office champ, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” which also happens to be a Disney flick.

It will overtake “Oz” because it’s a film everyone should see. It offers the kind of heavy-handed slapstick humor that made “Panda” so popular with young children while weaving in the deep family dynamics that made “Dragon” an epic blockbuster.

Nicholas Cage still seems like an odd pick to play the family patriarch, Grug, but he generally pulls it off. And, contrary to what the trailers have suggested, he is the central figure of the story. Emma Stone is stellar providing the voice of Grug’s teenage daughter, Eep, while Ryan Reynolds delves back into his comedy roots as Guy, the inventive “modern” male who wins Eep’s affections.

The story itself is rather formulaic, but the sometimes over-the-top slapstick and well-developed family dynamics more than make the picture stand on its own. Best of all, the toilet humor that has sadly seeped into more and more youth-targeted media is refreshingly absent from “The Croods.”

This movie has little hope of joining the upper echelon of DreamWorks’ “franchise” titles, like “Shrek,” “Dragon” and “Panda,” and likewise probably won’t be revisited for a sequel in the years to come (“Dragon” 2 is due out in 2014 and “Panda” 3 and “Dragon” 3 are set to hit theaters in 2016). But it does exactly what it was meant to do.

“The Croods” will entertain children and parents alike while conveying an overall positive message told with some heart. The humor is good and old-fashioned, which makes for a very enjoyable animated film.

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