Early Man (UK / France / PG / 88 mins)
Directed by Nick Park. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Miriam Margolyes.
THE PLOT: A long time ago, in a valley far, far away… Well, outside Manchester anyway. Caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) lives in peace with his Stone Age tribe, lead by ancient wise one Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall). Dug is a dreamer, curious about his ancestors who first settled there. The arrival of sneering Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) turns things upside down though. Nooth and his tribe are of the Bronze Age and are keen to move in. Not if Dug has anything to say about it. Wide-eyed Dug discovers the wonders of a game called football and Nooth’s apparently unbeatable team, Real Bronzio. Along with his pig/dog Hognob and Goona (Maisie Williams), a girl who is barred from playing, Dug challenges Nooth to an epic football game that will decide who is the boss… THE VERDICT: Working from a self-described ‘shed in Bristol’, Aardman Animations have been creating handmade animated films for decades. There have been dalliances with Hollywood that didn’t quite work (the computer generated ‘Flushed Away’), but their commitment to keeping the British end up is admirable, in much the same way as Ken Loach or Mike Leigh. Their latest stop-motion wonder is ‘Early Man’ which sees their frontman, Nick Park, taking on sole directing duties for the first time.
The story is quite simple, consisting of some minor tribal squabbles mixed in with some animal humour (a giant duck, a delirious bunny) and a lovingly local devotion to the beautiful game (there’s a great line from a pundit about a certain football team). Football is very much at the heart of this thoroughly historically inaccurate but fun film. Its contemporary qualities only make it more amusing. There’s a certain charm to the story, which should delight children and entertain adults in equal measure. Like Pixar, Aardman have the ability to cross generations with a universal story.
The characters are animated in that distinctive Aardman rustic goofiness, all big teeth and wide eyes, but each having their own personality. The voice casting is a bit odd though. It’s a little obvious to have a French villain in a post-Brexit film (why not a posh Londoner?). It’s also a bit too Monty Python, especially when you consider how outrageously fake the French accents are (Williams’ ow-you-zay accent sounds more American than French). These are minor quibbles though, for the film has enough heart and visually inventive humour to get by on. Not quite classic Aardman, but the charming ‘Early Man’ still rocks the Stone Age. RATING: 3.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor