Set at the dawn of time, Aardman Animation’s latest film focuses on Dug (Eddie Redmayne), a young and excitable caveman who yearns for sonething bigger than simply hunting rabbits and who, along with this whole tribe, is forced out of his valley by Bronze Age invaders who seek to use the valley as a mineral mine. Inadvertently finding himself in the Bronze capital, Dug challenges the greedy Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) to a football match between the stone and bronze tribes, victory resulting in the valley being given back to the cavemen but defeat meaning a lifetime of work for them down in the mine.
The cast of Early Man is made up of some well-known UK talents and all seem to have fun with what they’re given; Eddie Redmayne is a very nice fit as the lovably goofy Dug – a friendly Aardman everyman with some big dreams (and a pet boar) who the audience can support as he goes on his journey – and on the other side, Tom Hiddleston has loads of fun hamming it up as the cod-accented, pompous and greedy Lord Nooth, getting perfectly silly with the material and giving the film plenty of energy. Elsewhere, Maisie Williams is alright at the footballing pro Goona (apparently an Arsenal reference) but her accent is uncertain and inconsistent, switching between English, French and at one point American, Timothy Spall puts in a dignified and paternal turn as the tribal Chief, and the rest of the supporting cast, which includes the unmistakable voices of Richard Ayoade, Johnny Vegas and Mark Williams as well as Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak and Miriam Margloyes, have fun with what they have and make for an all round lovely ensemble cast, even if their characters aren’t that memorable and are essentially all overshadowed by Redmayne and Hiddleston.
Coco recently treated us to some spectacular animation and with Early Man, we are spoiled yet again by a very different kind of animation as director Nick Park and Aardman continue to show off just how impressive their own brand of stop motion claymation can be. I’m sure that we’re all too aware of just how much work goes into a handmade project like this (see The Film Blog’s post about it for much greater detail) and because of their hard work, Early Man‘s animation is incredibly smooth and near flawless, impressively getting you to forget that its stop motion within about two seconds, and the fact that the film showcases plenty of kinetic footballing/training scenes makes their hard work even more impressive. Also on the technical front, Harry Gregson Williams’ score is great and there are a couple of licensed tracks from The Kaiser Chiefs and Mud that are used very well in the footballing/training scenes.
With regards to the script and story, the film is very light hearted and many of the jokes hit their intended mark, using plenty of visual gags, fun character animation and clever wordplay; it isn’t absolutely hilarious viewing but the humour is well intentioned and will surely coax a chuckle out of most audiences. The story itself is very simple but therein lies the danger because ultimately, the stakes are quite low and it makes me wonder whether the film would have benefited from abandoning the whole football element altogether and focusing on a more ambitious “stone vs. bronze” type epic adventure story, something that greater compliments the film’s top-tier animation. As it stands, the all-important football match is fun enough to watch, though it all leads to a fairly predictable finale, but this low risk, all too slight, and perhaps unambitious story direction may very well doom the film to be forgotten about in time. Because we know that Aardman are perfectly capable of thinking outside the box.
And that giant killer duck – just what were they thinking?!
So all in all, Early Man will never be remembered as one of the all-time classics of animation due to its slightly pedestrian story but nonetheless, it’s a light and breezy piece of entertainment that should provide an hour or so of decent cinemagoing fun.