Skip past the lame title and weary Stone Age premise. "The Croods" is the first pleasant surprise of spring, a gorgeous kids' cartoon with heart and wit, if not exactly a firm grasp of paleontology.

It's about a family of cave men and women who have survived, unlike their neighbors, by minimizing risk. But risk is how we grow, how we better our lives and achieve great things.

That's just one of the things the Croods learn as their world turns upside down -- literally. Earthquakes and volcanoes do tend to upend a neighborhood.

Daddy Grug, hilariously and sensitively voiced by Nicolas Cage, has just one motto, one he reinforces in their cave as he tells stories and animates his lessons on the cave wall: "Never be not afraid." His athletic daughter, Eep (an energetic Emma Stone), may bristle at that as she invents rock climbing, parkour and assorted other dangerous sports while exploring their limited world. But fear has kept them all -- Grug, Eep, mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), lunky brother Thunk (Clark Duke), Gran (Cloris Leachman) and feral baby Sandy (Randy Thom) -- alive.

But Eep has slipped out at night, lured by a strange light. Let's call it "fire." She's also lured by the handsome lad who has fire. Let's call him "Guy," given a typical wry and sarcastic turn by Ryan Reynolds.

The animation is first rate, even if the cutesy critters bear the hallmarks of co-director Chris Sanders' "Lilo & Stitch" and "How to Train Your Dragon" -- wide, round faces, big cuddly eyes.

Another Sanders touch? Emotion. "The Croods" has a warm sense of family, responsibility and letting Dad save face.

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And the actors are, to a one, dazzling -- getting across emotions and delivering this very visual comedy's verbal zingers with great timing. "The Croods" aren't the Flintstones. But mercifully, they aren't living in the Ice Age, either.

PLOT The adventures of a prehistoric family.

RATING PG (some scary action)

CAST Voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds


BOTTOM LINE Warm and well-done, with first-rate animation