"The Croods" and the repression of fatherhood

I went to see “The Croods” the other day.  It’s a computer-animated comedy about a caveman family, filled with a great deal of amusing slapstick in the Looney Toons tradition.  It’s fun, if a bit frenetic for the adult attention span – sometimes it feels like a story screamed in your face by a manic 6-year-old – and the animation is excellent, including the 3-D version.

But story-wise, this is almost exactly the same plot as last year’s “Hotel Transylvania.”  The central conflict is between an over-protective father whose life is ruled by fear (voiced by Nicholas Cage in the caveman version) and his teenage daughter, who just wants to get out and see the world (Emma Stone.)  A boy from the outside world (Ryan Reynolds) enters the teenage daughter’s life, and butts heads with Dad.  The kids are absolutely correct, and by the end of the movie the fearful, repressive father has seen the error of his ways, opening up to the wonders of the outside world and finally allowing his little girl to flee the heavily-fortified nest.

In both cases, the plot is kind enough to allow Dad to have some valid reasons for his paranoia (Dracula in “Hotel Transylvania” is understandably afraid of the human reaction to monsters, Grug in “The Croods” is trying to keep his family alive in a world filled with predators.)  But both of them are proven wrong in the end, and given moments of heroic self-sacrifice to prove they were sincerely mistaken, not overbearing brutes.  Of course, since these are cartoons for children, the heroic self-sacrifices are swiftly taken back, and a happy ending is delivered.  (In “Hotel Transylvania,” sunlight proves to be a remarkably minor irritant for vampires.)

Could Hollywood tell this story any other way?