By Mike Collett-White
BERLIN (Reuters) - DreamWorks Animation's new 3D adventure "The Croods" brings the prehistoric age to the 21st century in the form of a dysfunctional family of cave dwellers forced to flee the comforts of home and search out a new life in the unknown.
"Never not be afraid" and "Fear keeps us alive" are the mantras for Grug, the ape-like father voiced by Nicolas Cage and whose first instinct is always to find a cave, block up the entrance and stay there as long as possible.
But while he seeks to protect his brood from giant, hyena-like predators lurking in the shadows, his teenaged daughter Eep (Emma Stone) is desperate to spread her wings, and it is her curiosity that leads the Croods to the other main character Guy.
Guy introduces the Croods to fire and to a new way of thinking, and when the world literally falls apart around them they flee the collapsing deserts and canyons to find a lush, tropical world full of exotic yet dangerous creatures.
Flying pink piranha birds devour walking whales in seconds, while tiny monkeys with giant fists use Grug as a punch bag.
Much play is made of the first modern family coming up with the first pair of sunglasses (out of stone), the first pet, and the first photograph - made by smashing a flat rock against the Croods' faces and leaving indentation marks.
For Cage, the appeal of "The Croods", which hits theatres in March and has its premiere at the Berlin film festival on Friday, was that the themes were recognizable today.
"The first thing I thought was 'Gee, I really hope I don't look like that'," he told reporters, referring to Grug's less-than-flattering features.
"But what I really like about the relationship that Emma and I have in the movie is that it's a relationship that I think many families can relate to - the over-protective father, the teenaged daughter who wants to have some adventure."
"THE CROODS" 2?
While "The Croods" is about discovering ourselves, leaving our comfort zone and learning to let go of loved ones, Cage warned against seeing the action-packed comedy as too much more.
"For me to go about any movie as a message movie is going about it the wrong way," said the 49-year-old, whose prolific career has spanned action, arthouse and romance and included a best actor Oscar for the 1995 film "Leaving Las Vegas".
"To me it's more reflection, to be a mirror in some way of what we are feeling as families all over the world."
"The Croods" has been nearly a decade in the making, and is the first title by DreamWorks, behind hit franchises like "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar", to be distributed by 20th Century Fox after the deal with Paramount Pictures ended.
Asked whether it could form the basis of another lucrative series, co-director Chris Sanders said he had so much extra material left on the cutting room floor from the first movie that it would be relatively easy to do if required.
Cage added: "I would like to see another adventure with the Croods."
With its end-of-the-world atmosphere, and news on Friday of a meteor exploding over central Russia, the cast were asked what their final film project might be if they knew the end was nigh.
"What haven't I done yet?" Cage replied. "I'd like to be in a musical. I think I'd do a musical if it was the last movie I ever did in the world, singing and dancing while everything is exploding."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)