“The Croods” could end up being the first movie franchise that goes on for generations.

Set in a prehistoric era with long-extinct critters, convulsive geological activity and a family of cave dwellers transforming into explorers, the film’s potentially bountiful sequels could easily follow the descendants of its characters for thousands of years, right to the present.

That’s because the underlying theme of “The Croods” is evolution. A fun, animated 3D spectacle that will likely captivate kids, this DreamWorks feature bases its look, story and comedy on the idea that the Croods — a Stone Age clan, but definitely not the Flintstones — are living in transitional times.

Among many wonders found in the thick of comic action is a whalelike mammal roving the land on four legs, as well as canyons in violent formation, a spreading discovery of fire and varying levels of higher intelligence in our ancestors. Signs of nature’s progress, in other words.

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Not that Croods patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage), mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), daughter Eep (Emma Stone), son Thunk (Clark Duke) or Gran (Cloris Leachman) sound especially Paleolithic saying things like “she needs her own space” or “fear keeps us alive.” But once you get used to the script’s contemporary dialogue, it’s easy to settle down with the film’s imaginative, colorful vision.

The story finds the characters emotionally suffocating under Grug’s constant need to literally and figuratively shelter his mate and kids.

It is indeed a dangerous world, but when adolescent Eep meets a smart, nomadic peer named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who knows how to venture forth and be more fully human, Grug’s authority is challenged.

There isn’t much compelling sophistication to “The Croods,” not a lot to engage adults beyond a couple of Wile E. Coyote moments for hapless Grug.

But in an interesting way, “The Croods” is about storytelling — cave paintings, hints of oral tradition, stumbling upon metaphors — and the impulse to remember amid change. There’s something touching in that, something that tugs at a viewer and makes “The Croods” more than the sum of its sight gags and sentimentality.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com