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Now that Pixar's turned into a pale imitation of itself, churning out prequels (Monsters U) and sequels (Planes) it's up to DreamWorks to keep up the creation of original stories. (Let's just ignore for the moment How to Train Your Dragon 2 + 3...)

Anyhoo, The Croods is about a family of Cro-Magnon men and women who spend their days sheltered from the terrors of the world in their tiny cave. Only when the father Grug gives the signal do the family venture out for a organized attacks on the wildlife, followed by mad dash to their cramped quarters before the sun goes down. (Keep your eyes out early on for a chaotic scramble for a single egg that would make Chuck Jones proud.)

Guy, Eep Belt the sloth, left, voiced by Chris Sanders, and the young heroes of The Croods, Guy, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, and Eep, voiced by Emma Stone. (DreamWorks/Associated Press)

"Never not be afraid" is the family motto, but teenage Eep is a fearless female hungry to see something more than her father's cautionary cave paintings. So when Eep follows a flicking flame to discover Guy, the Croods' world changes.

Not only has Guy tamed fire. He's an inventor who uses tricks, traps and a sloth called Belt to keep his pants up. Eep swoons over the shaggy-haired beanpole who has something called "ideas." So when Guy warns the Croods the end of the world is nigh, a pre-historic road trip is order.

The Croods comes to DreamWorks by way of Aardman Animations where John Cleese and a partner had the idea about a genius stuck with a family of cavemen. The basic dynamic still persists and in fact the heart of the film is Guy's reluctant relationship with Eep.

With the goal of not wanting another "princess pretty character for Eep, co-directors Chris Sanders Kirk De Micco created an stocky, broad-shouldered gal who needs no rescuing. Voiced by Emma Stone, Eep is more of an athletic Amazon type than a damsel in distress. If anyone needs assistance it's Guy, who find himself kidnapped and carried along like a pre-historic GPS as Grug navigates the changing world around them. Ryan Reynolds plays against type as the geeky Guy, making a good straight man to Eep's exuberance. But that's just the beginning of this all-star cast.

For a while it seemed as if Nicolas Cage was been teetering into Gary Busey territory both with his off-camera antics and poor choice of roles. His half-manic, macho blend crossed the line of parody many movies ago. But as Grug, the Croods' patriarch, his guttural roar is the perfect voice for the dimwitted Dad. Also keep your ears open for Catherine Keener as his wife and Clark Duke as Eep's thick-headed brother Thunk.)

The Croods is a movie about embracing innovation and, by throwing the evolutionary textbook out the window, The Croods' creators give us an absolutely Oz-worthy riot of colourful creatures. Scarlet birds swoop in a murderous murmuration and the fauna looks like a cuddly version of Avatar's overgrown jungle.

While The Croods is guilty of drawing out the climax while hammering home the Daddy/Daughter dilemma, both in the storytelling and character design this is a decidedly fresh take on an old story.


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