The Croods live in a dangerous prehistoric world. Large animals or diseases have killed their neighbors, which only serves to heighten father Grug’s (voiced by Nicolas Cage) paranoia. Each night Grug shuts his family into a cave a rolls a giant stone over the cave mouth; sometimes, if he feels there is too much danger outside, he makes everyone stay put for days.
Eep (voiced by Emma Stone), the eldest of the Croods’ children, loves exploration and often rebels against her father’s strict ways. One night, after her family has fallen asleep, she sees a glimmering light outside of the cave. She squeezes through a hole and follows the light to its source: a torch. The fire mesmerizes Eep, so at first she doesn’t notice the torch’s owner: Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), a nomadic human. After attacking Guy out of instinct, Eep questions him about the fire and his plans. Guy tells Eep their world is ending. The earth keeps splitting into giant rifts, and he wants to outrun the devastation by traveling to a nearby mountain. He invites Eep to come with him, but she cannot leave her family behind, so he gives her a conch shell, which serves as a kind of phone: If he hears her blowing, he will come find her.
Grug awakens and realizes Eep has gone outside. He finds her right before a giant cat attacks. He drags Eep back to the cave, and the rest of the Croods mother Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener), little brother Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke), baby Sandy, and Ugga’s mother Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman) emerge. They Croods destroy Eep’s shell because, after years of Grug’s warnings, they fear anything new. An earthquake interrupts Eep’s and Grug’s argument, and a falling stone cleaves the family cave in half. The Croods must venture into a newfound verdant world that has been exposed by the earthquake.
The Croods wander through a rainforest. Grug’s usual tactics of grunting to scare off wild animals does not work on any of the wildlife they encounter. A humungous tiger with giant fangs chases the family onto a plain but retreats suddenly when darkness falls. The Croods revel in their fortune until they see what scared the giant cat: a swarm of carnivorous birds that devour large animals within seconds. The swarm of birds turns on the Croods, and Grug tries to shield his family from them. Eep sees a horn and blows into it to call for Guy. He hears the horn blast and arrives just in time: he lights a torch and jumps in front of the Croods. The swarm divides as the birds fly away to avoid the flame. While Eep is impressed by Guy’s ingenuity, Grug resents Guy’s new ideas and the sway he holds over Eep.
Guy tells the Croods about his plan to go to a distant mountain, a place where the earthquakes and giant rifts will stop occurring. Eep convinces her family to follow Guy, because a mountain must have a new cave where they can live. Grug reluctantly agrees to go with Guy, and in order to keep Guy from running away, he traps him in a log.
Over the coming days, Guy teaches Eep and her family about dozens of new concepts. He introduces him to his pet sloth Belt, who he wears as a belt, as well as he concept of owning pets. He tells him he uses his brain and not his brawn to solve problems. He teaches Eep how to set a trap to catch prey. With every idea Guy tells to Eep, Grug dislikes him more. One night Grug tells his family the story of the little tiger; Eep wears a tiger skin dress, and he is clearly talking about her. The story follows the same pattern as the rest of Grug’s stories: an inquisitive child disobeys her parents and dies because of it. Guy enjoys the story and proceeds to tell his own: the tiger sneaks out of her parents’ cave and goes towards the edge of a cliff. The closer she gets to the cliff, the more she sees, and the more she hears. Grug told the same story, except in Guy’s version, when the tiger falls off of the cliff, she flies instead of dies. Guy says that she flew to Tomorrow, a place with a thousand suns. Everyone but Grug loves the story.
The next morning, Eep asks Guy how the tiger flew. Guy won’t tell Eep anything until she helps him escape from the log. Eep distracts her family and helps Guy escape, and, because he wears fur shoes, he can run across a bed of prickly rocks. The Croods cannot follow him without hurting their bare feet, and Guy almost abandons them, until he looks back and sees Eep. He returns to the Croods and promises to take them to the mountain if they do not put him back in the log. Ugga forces Grug to agree, so Guy makes everyone a pair of shoes, and they cross the prickly rocks together.
Earthquakes and volcanoes follow the Croods and Guy as they continue towards the mountain. The humungous tiger stalks them as well. Grug becomes increasingly disheartened as Guy’s inventive methods prove to be better at safeguarding his family than his own overprotective ones. The final straw comes when the group reaches a rock maze. Instead of sticking together, Guy gives everyone a “shell” phone and tells the Croods to split up; they can navigate their way through the maze more quickly that way. Everyone but Grug makes it through the maze, and Ugga must retrieve her husband.
That night, the Croods and guy sleep in tree. Guy and Belt entertain the Croods with jokes and creative stories. Ugga tries to convince Grug to join him, but he’s too angry with Guy to do so. Guy shows Eep, Thunk, Sandy, Ugga, and Gran the stars for the first time, and Eep tells her family she wants to go with Guy to Tomorrow. Grug overhears her and is heartbroken; he feels even worse when his family says he has never had an idea.
The next morning Grug pretends to be a new age idea man like Guy, but he makes largely hare brained suggestions, and Eep tells him he doesn’t know how to protect their family. Now she thinks the Croods should follow Guy. Another earthquake distracts the family, and Grug tries to force everyone into a cave to hide, but not even Ugga wants to go back to the dark. Grug explodes at Guy and chases him into a tar pit. Both men get stuck, and Guy dejectedly tells Grug that no one, not even he, can escape a tar pit. When he was a child, his parents got stuck in tar and died. The last thing they told him was to never hide and to follow the light, because that way he’d find Tomorrow. Grug admits that he just wants to keep Eep safe, and Guy says he and Eep are very similar, because neither one tells the other “I love you” enough. The men make peace with each other.
In the distance, they hear the humungous tiger roar. Grug gets an idea: they use nearby plants to create a fake female tiger puppet and lure the real tiger into pulling the puppet, and thereby them, out of the tar. Then Grug and Guy make a narrow escape and rejoin the rest of the Croods. They finally reach the mountain and find Tomorrow, a beautiful sunlit land. Their happiness is short lived, though, because another earthquake creates a rift and a giant dust cloud between them and Tomorrow. Guy does not have an idea about how to get everyone across the chasm, but Grug realizes they do not need an idea but rather his strength. He hurls everyone across the chasm but, of course, cannot throw himself. Eep initially refuses to abandon her father, but he hugs her and tells her that he loves her. He throws Eep across and sadly bids his family farewell.
Grug finds a cave and manages to light a torch. He sees a giant blank stone and draws portraits of his family and Guy to cheer him up. He doesn’t notice the humungous tiger creep in behind him, but when he runs from the tiger, he finds out it is as scared of the dark and unknown as he is. The tiger just wants a friend, and he becomes Grug’s pet.
Suddenly, Grug hears someone blowing their shell, and he thinks his family is in danger. He wracks his brain trying to come up with an idea about how to cross the chasm, and then it hits him! Grug paints a giant skeleton in tar and attracts the carnivorous bird swarm to the skeleton. He and the tiger climb in the skeleton’s ribs, and once the birds fly into the tar and stick to it, he uses a torch to direct their flight. The skeleton takes off like a rudimentary airplane, and as he travels towards the chasm, Grug manages to rescue more animals.
On the other side of the cliff, Eep blows her shell not because the family’s in danger but because she misses her dad. Gran goes to tell her that Grug is gone, but she cannot stand to sadden her granddaughter, so she starts blowing into her shell too. The Croods and Guy gather and blow into their shells. To their surprise, Grug and his flying skeleton plane burst through a cloud of dust and crash lands behind them. The family reunites joyfully, and along with Guy and their new pets, they proceed to their new tropical paradise home.
Eep finishes their story by explaining that now the Croods live in the open and do not let fear define their lives.
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