OPINION | REVIEW: 'The Croods: A New Age'

Nomadic evolutionary leap forward Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) and his furry sloth friend Belt (Christopher Sanders), who holds up Guy’s pants, are part of the cast in the animated comedy “The Croods: A New Age.”

Grug Crood (voice of Nicolas Cage) and his family need to get out more often. In the listless "The Croods" (2013), they mostly stuck to their cave. But in this sequel, they wander out into a bigger, open world full of creatures that are missing from the fossil record, and the clan's long-term quest for survival seems livelier and more imaginative.

Now that the mysterious Guy (Ryan Reynolds) has become part of the tribe, it's not that surprising that he and Grug's daughter Eep (Emma Stone) want to have this mysterious entity called "privacy." The two define it as not having to smell feet one doesn't want to smell.

Through their wandering they discover an oasis loaded with dense vegetation where all the plants grow in neat, convenient rows. This has happened because someone has built walls around the complex and planted the crops strategically. The someone turns out to be Phil Betterman (Peter Dinklage) and his wife, Hope (Leslie Mann), who also happen to be part of Guy's original tribe.

The Bettermans seem proud of their surname and even use it to remind the Croods who is allegedly smarter and more sophisticated. They also want Guy to split from Eep so he can marry their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). The matchmaking and the subterfuge hit a snag when it turns out that Dawn and Eep share the same wanderlust.

Having human antagonists gives "The Croods: The New Age" a sense of urgency the previous movie could have used. As he demonstrated in "Game of Thrones," Dinklage is an old hand and playing duplicitous characters and effortlessly finds new shades of slimy that didn't seem available before.

As with "The Flintstones" and the first film, there are legions of fanciful creatures who won't be found in any natural history museum. There's a delightful and creepy variation on wolf spiders and an army of goofy primates who prove that a barrel of them is insufficient.

As with the previous caveman cartoon, much of the humor comes from how it's hard to tell what are ordinary objects and what are other living, but previously undocumented creatures. Actually, the Croods and the Bettermans are showing some signs of leaving a record. We get an explanation of where came paintings originated here.

The existing characters also get a little room for growth as well. Cloris Leachman has a lot more to do this time, which is refreshing because it seems silly to employ an Oscar-winner like her or Cage without giving them any worthwhile bits. Arkansas' Clark Duke almost steals the show by doing nothing.

Actually his Thunk, Eeps' less observant brother, has become obsessed with the Bettermans' invention, the window, and has become a prehistoric coach potato. He refuses to notice anything unless it's through a frame of some type.

Maybe he's more of an innovator than we thought.

"A New Age" loses some of its energy toward the end as the overstuffed conclusion threatens to slow down the momentum from the rest of the movie. Until then, the more verdant environment the Bettermans occupy is simply more fun to inhabit. There's more potential for comic mischief and mistakes.

Cartoons have given Cage a chance to remind viewers that his on-screen roles don't reflect his formidable, if not quite maximized talent. He stole "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse" and finally got to play Superman in another animated movie. With only his voice he proves that he's still a leading man. Maybe he was born to play cavemen and superheroes.

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‘The Croods: A New Age’

85 Cast: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Cloris Leachman, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, Kelly Marie Tran, Chris Sanders

Director: Joel Crawford

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

Running time: 1 Hour, 35 minutes