Movie Review: At long last, “The Croods: A New Age”

Nicolas Cage is — hands down — the best, most-committed and most-fun voice actor in animated films today. Fight me.

His hilarious, empathetic and occasionally gonzo turn made the cave-family comedy “The Croods” a surprise delight back in 2013. Credit the recording-studio direction or competition with that Canadian cut-up Ryan Reynolds and future Oscar-winner Emma Stone if you want, but there was utter magic at work, bringing those animated characters to life.

That’s just as true with the sequel. “The Croods: A New Age” has some of the derivative limitations of the first film — the faint whiff of riding “Ice Age’s” coattails. But the players make their slapsticking, pratfalling, punking and pranking characters breathe, live, love and care.

And they let us care, too. Just a little.

Grug (Cage) and his family — wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), warrior tomboy Eep (Stone), lunkish son Thunk (Clark Duke), Gran (Oscar winner Cloris Leachman) and feral, grunting girl-child Sandy (Kailey Crawford) finally stumble into their “paradise,” the “tomorrow” that foundling teen Guy (Ryan Reynolds) always talked about.

Turns out, the hunter-gatherers have stumbled into the Land of Plenty created by the Bettermans (cute). They’re people from Guy’s past who settled down, discovered farming and irrigation and sort of Swiss Family Robinsoned their way to mythic Paleolithic bliss.

But civilization has made the Bettermans –Dawn (Leslie Mann) and Phil (Peter Dinklage) a tad uptight. One might say…snooty?

“Forgive our condescension.”

That’s going to create conflict with the gorging, gross live-off-the-land/smell-like-the-land Croods.

“It’s called a shower. You should TRY it!”

Throw in the fact that Guy’s childhood gal-pal Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran of the recent “Star Wars” trilogy) is in the mix, a third wheel in the Eep/Guy teen romance, and Ugg’s whole “The pack stays together” ethos and all sorts of conflict has entered the picture — civilization vs. primal “nature,” collective caring/thinking vs. “individuality,” “taming” (breaking) nature vs. living in harmony with it.

Yeah, this could get deep. Thank heavens it doesn’t.

The comic action comes from the various outside fantastical and deadly species that menace “the pack” into “the kill circle.” The comedy comes from sight gags and zingers about an era when life was “brutish, nasty and short.”

“If no one’s died before breakfast, that’s a win.”

I got a kick out of the pretentious Phil’s “power of higher thought” discoveries of “the man cave” (a sauna) and the like. Privacy? Guy explains to Eep that that would mean the end of the Crood family/pack “sleep pile.”

Privacy means “you only smell the feet you WANNA smell!”

The assorted species in this imaginary world are worth a chuckle — wolf spiders, kanga-dillos, vulture rats. You’ve got to dig the film’s tough girl-powered preserve-the-pack mindset.

“Today is a good day to DIE” toothless/hairless Gran spits as they form their defensive “kill circle.”

And first scene to last, we can revel in Cage’s utterly convincing envy, fear, primal fury and primitive appetites as Ugg, a caveman/dad with one mission, who only gets confused when there are distractions from a father’s Job One.

“Ok. Nothing’s tried to kill us for ten minutes. We’ll camp here.”

Yes. “Revel in” Cage’s wonderful voice acting, setting the tone for everybody else in the movie going all-in just to match his commitment. Or you could just fight me.

MPA Rating: PG for peril, action and rude humor.

Cast: The voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Cloris Leachman, Leslie Mann, Catherine Keener, Kelly Marie Trann, Clark Duke and Peter Dinklage

Credits: Directed by Joel Crawford, script by Ken Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan. A Dreamworks production, a Universal release.

Running time: 1:35

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