Early Man Review
A joyful, clever, charming, and above all silly film.
Stop motion legend Nick Park goes way, way back for this Stone Age escapade that (ashamedly) feels very modern.There are certain things you can rely on in life – death, taxes, and Nick Park creating charming stop-motion animations that warm the cockles of your heart. This time it’s not cult heroes Wallace and Gromit, but rather Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and the evil and vaguely-European Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). This pun-tastic charmer is set in the Neo-Pleistocene era (seriously, the puns start this early), and introduces those truly timeless topics – football, imperialism and fear of foreigners.
When we meet him, Dug’s world is pretty simple. He walks through the forest, hunts rabbits, and just… exists. There’s nothing much out there or so Dug thinks. That delightful illusion is shattered when the gallic Lord Nooth gallops in with a troupe of would-be marauders and claims Dug’s little patch for his own sophisticated resource-mine (there’s a sophisticated Brexit joke to be made here, I’m sure). Naturally, the only way to resolve this territorial quibble is a super-duper-high-stakes footie match.
Despite the temporal setting, not everything is stuck in the Stone Age. The most valuable player is Goona (Maisie Williams), a female football prodigy who is held back by her supposedly ‘advanced’ civilisation. But there are lots of throwback gags and knowing jokes that remind us all that Aardman Studios is an absolute British institution.
The screenplay, by Mark Burton and James Higginson, is pun-heavy and a complete joy. There are silly characters that children will enjoy, and there’s an absolute truckload of clever witticisms that is more than enough to keep grown-ups entertained.
Naturally, the animation is perfect, full of the soft, rounded, plasticine-y figures we’ve grown to know and love from other Aardman productions. Clearly, in this day and age, there’s a lot of CGI and modern technology making the scenes tick over, but it’s so perfectly blended that Early Man doesn’t lack any of the charm of Creature Comforts or Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers. Indeed, some of these characters – that are intentionally made to look obviously handmade – appear more humanlike than many of Hollywood’s finest live action actors these days.
There are silly characters for the kids and plenty of clever witticisms to keep grown-ups entertained
Rob Brydon makes a superb cameo as Lord Nooth’s avian sidekick, while a host of other animated animals – including a dinosaur-sized duck and an adorable giggling rabbit – add an extra layer of whimsy. Park himself voices Dug’s boar/Gruffalo/dog/mammoth sidekick, Hognob.
Of course, this is still an underdog tale, and we know how they go. The story arc doesn’t spring many major surprises, and beyond introducing some really zany characters and throwing in a few subverted conventions, it doesn’t really bother trying. It would be easy to say it’s an almost lazy narrative, but that misses the point of a film like this. Early Man’s secret is that it’s not about the end, it’s about the journey; and the whole film is so packed with comedic gems that the plot almost becomes secondary.
A joyful, clever, charming, and above all silly film, this is a masterpiece of animation from one of the all-time greats. Everyone who has a soft spot for Wallace & Gromit (hi, everyone) should make a beeline for the cinema to catch Early Man.
There’s something super comforting about watching a deliberately simplistic-looking (I’m under no illusions, this is state of the art, superb animation at work) animated comedy about supposedly primitive humans. So drag your knuckles to the cinema, get out of the January chill and fill your (non-mammoth fur) boots with some delightful animated fun.
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