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Nicolas Cage has always been willing to push characters to the edge of cartoonishness. No surprise, then, that he's absolutely perfect for a cartoon.

Cage plays a not-so-highly evolved patriarch in the animated "The Croods: A New Age." If you're worried that you missed the first "Croods" and won't be able to catch up on its nuances, don't be. The story is formulaic and the opening minutes fill you in on what you need to know. (The sequel was set to open Wednesday before Minnesota theaters were closed until Dec. 18 under new coronavirus restrictions. The movie may appear via video on-demand in December.)

The Croods are a prehistoric clan who, in "New Age," try to keep up with the Neanderthals when they encounter the more evolved Betterman family. Cage voices the sputtering, stubborn Grug and he's hilarious, both in his cockeyed line readings and his vivid expressions, which the animators clearly relied on.

As in "Mad Men" or "Downton Abbey," two shows you wouldn't expect to see in the same sentence as a broad comedy about cavepeople, the gimmick is that the depicted era was different but it's really the same. There's a then-but-now quality to behaviors such as teenagers flirting with each other ("You accessorize with a sloth? I accessorize with a sloth!"), adults realizing they may have something to learn from young people, or one character offering a definition of "privacy" that works anytime two people are thrown together in close quarters: "It means you only smell the feet you want to smell."

The script lurches occasionally, feeling more like four episodes of a "Croods" series than a movie, but the material in the "episodes" works.

What seems to be a romantic triangle pitting Grug's daughter Eep (Emma Stone) against another girl (Kelly Marie Tran) for the affections of a cavehottie named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) shifts instead to gentle sisterhood. Grug's mom (Cloris Leachman) initially seems like a stereotype but turns out to have powerful skillz. And the family competition resolves once the selfishly free-spirited Bettermans (Leslie Mann and a memorable Peter Dinklage) come to their senses.

Occasionally we catch a glimpse of cave drawings in the classic style, and they made me wonder what "Croods" might look like if it experimented more with that primitive art form, much like "Loving Vincent" was animated in the style of Van Gogh. This is not that. It's a conventional animated movie but it's funny and sweet and it's not like every animated movie needs to reinvent the wheel.

Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367


The Croods: A New Age

⋆⋆⋆ out of 4 stars

Rating: PG for crude humor.