For prehistoric rubbings on cave walls, "The Croods" sure have a lot of heart.
Granted, I'm neither the target audience nor a big fan of the Hollywood factories mechanically churning out new 3-D products every few weeks to pack theaters with 5-year-old film audiences, and their ticket-buying parents. But "The Croods" got to me.
Making the Flintstones look like urban sophisticates, "The Croods" is set in a prehistoric past when just venturing out of the cave presents endless challenges. Sabre-toothed beasts in all sizes. Meteors streaking across the sky. Endless volcanic eruptions and assorted earthquakes.
No wonder that cave dad Grug (Nicolas Cage) is so fearful about the world outside, as he tries to keep his family safe behind the boulder at their cave mouth. And no wonder that his daughter Eep (Emma Stone) feels so stifled. It's a prehistoric emotion between daughters and dads that continues to this day.
When natural disasters force them out of the cave and a more progressive primitive named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) arrives with all sorts of new "ideas," they set out on the first-ever family vacation, doing little things like discovering fire along the way.
John Cleese shares a writing credit alongside writer/directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, but I think the Croods' appeal has more to do with the wonderfully alive vocal performances of Cage and Stone, ably backed by Reynolds, Catherine Keener and Cloris Leachman.
For all the cute creatures, harrowing escapes (some of which may be too much for the youngest audience members) and eye-popping visuals, it's the family relationships - sometimes wry, sometimes hilarious, sometimes bringing embarrassing tears to your eyes - that make "The Croods" such an unexpected pleasure.
Despite their horrible orthodonture, their skin-and-bones fashion sense and very limited real-world awareness, their characters still manage to make human connections with audience members of all ages.
Along with Cage's wide-ranging vocal performance and Stone cutely voicing prehistory's first cave babe for 8-year-old admirers, Alan Silvestiri provides a music score to match the imaginative visuals. "The Croods" deserves praise for touching hearts instead of just dumbing-down minds, en route to a really good weekend at the box office.
Unusual family values are also on the mind and at the heart of "Admission," that casts Tina Fey as a college admissions officer holding the keys to Princeton.
Co-starring the eternally laid-back Paul Rudd under the genteel direction of Paul Weitz, this likable little comedy-drama raises the question, is there anything Tina Fey can't do?
Apparently not. In recent years she starred in TV's long-running, award-winning "30 Rock," that she also created, produced and wrote; penned a best-selling memoir; swayed a presidential election; and co-hosted the greatest Golden Globes show ever.
Once again, she plays an efficient if vulnerable woman whose life is her career. Fey has this rare gift for making Type A personalities seem not only cute, but sexy. This time, she's part of a team making tough, often snooty, decisions about who's in and who's not at one of the country's top universities.
Fey and Rudd's characters were classmates at Dartmouth, before she took her job and he set off on a series of save-the-world projects. Now he runs an alternative, back-to-the-land New Hampshire high school where he's trying to get her attention for a brilliant, if unconventional high school senior who also just might be the baby she gave up for adoption way back then.
It's fun to watch Fey unravel her tightly wound career under the influence of these newly discovered maternal instincts. Her rocky relationship with her eccentric feminist mother (nailed by Lily Tomlin) adds more hormones and wisdom to the mix. While "Admission's" Ivy League colleges and New England prep schools may seem like an exotic faraway lands to most of us, Fey's talent for illuminating this wonderful mess called life is impossible to miss.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.