NOT AARDMAN’S STRONGEST WORK, BUT A GLEEFULLY ABSURD ANIMATED FILM WITH PLENTY OF LAUGHS!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Dug and his pet wild boar, Hognob in Early Man
From Aardman Animations, the studio behind Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep return with their latest stop-motion animated film, Early Man. Directed by Wallace & Gromit creator, Nick Park (Creature Comforts, Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) and produced by long-time collaborator, Peter Lord (Chicken Run, Flushed Away, The Pirates! Band of Misfits), this film marks Nick Park’s first film as a solo director and first directing credit in over ten years since Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005.
On paper Early Man sounds like the dumbest, most ridiculous thing ever conceived, a football game (No, not the American kind) being played by cavemen and Bronze Age soldiers. Fortunately, the film is self-aware of how absurd its concept is and has fun with it through witty jokes, a colorful cast of characters, and outrageous visual gags, and the majority of them hit bulls-eye.
The film follows a tribe of primitive hunters being displaced from their home in a valley by emissaries from a distant empire that has mastered the art of bronze making led by the sinister, Lord Nooth (voiced by Tom Hiddleston-Marvel Cinematic Universe, War Horse, Kong: Skull Island). A tribesman named Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne-The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) rebels against the Bronze Age City and challenges them to a game of soccer to win their valley back.
Why soccer you may ask? Well, because their ancestors have played the game for centuries through an origin that only an animated film can make up and had a long history of games. Until the cavemen unknowingly gave up on soccer and transitioned to rabbit hunting, and Dug, with the help of a soccer enthusiast from the Bronze City named Goona (voiced by Maisie Williams-Game of Thrones, Mary Shelley, The New Mutants) must whip his tribe into shape and win the game for their land.
The film also features the voices of Timothy Spall (Harry Potter franchise, The King’s Speech, Mr. Turner) as Chief Bobnar, Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, Submarine, The Boxtrolls) as Treebor, Selina Griffiths (Jonathan Creek, Midsomer Murders, Not Going Out) as Magma, Johnny Vegas (QI, Benidorm, The Brothers Grimsby) as Asbo, Mark Williams (Harry Potter franchise, Stardust, Albert Nobbs) as Barry, Gina Yashere (The Jay Leno Show, Married Single Other, The Daily Show) as Gravelle, Simon Greenall (People Like Us, Alas Smith and Jones, Trapped!) as Eemak, Miriam Margolyes (Balto, Babe, Harry Potter franchise) as Queen Oofeefa, Rob Brydon (Shaun of the Dead, MirrorMask, The Trip trilogy) as Message Bird, Kayvan Novak (Syriana, Facejacker, Paddington) as Dino (No, not the dinosaur from The Flintstones), and Park as Hognob.
Overall, Early Man is a funny movie whether you’re a kid or an adult, and especially if you’re an animation enthusiast (like myself). I don’t think it’s on the same level of quality as Chicken Run or the Wallace & Gromit shorts, but this is a movie that encompasses everything I love about Aardman’s films.
There are jokes flying at you constantly, many of which you’ll miss the first time around while you’re too busy laughing at another joke. It’s a movie that requires multiple viewings to get all the jokes, and I have no problem with that because I’ve already decided that I’m getting the Blu-Ray once it comes out.
The animation and set pieces are beautiful like most of Aardman’s films and the sets are obviously miniatures but once you put a camera in those little sets they’ve built, they feel larger than life and full of imagination. It’s also fascinating that the movie was filmed on green-screens for CG such as fire and weather effects, but they’re kept to a minimum and most of what you’re watching is really there.
From a visual perspective, nothing feels lazy or cheap and everything is well-detailed and appealing to the eyes. Right down to the simple-looking clay puppets of the characters, if you look closely on the characters in an Aardman film, you’ll notice fingerprints by the animators to maintain a homemade-looking appearance, a simple detail like that on top of all the time spent to animate them is truly something to be admired.
I also really like how this doesn’t feel like an animated film that was made for marketing purposes which is what a lot of Aardman projects were like when DreamWorks and Sony were distributing their films. Early Man isn’t distributed by a major film studio and it reminds audiences that a good animated movie comes from its story and characters, not because of toy selling.
Early Man brings the laughs and heart to make for a satisfying family outing, a delightfully absurd but consistently funny animated film that’s ironically a better Flintstones movie than the actual Flintstones movie. Don’t expect a Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit, but a well-made animated movie nonetheless.