Early Man (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
The creators of Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep, and more great films have more than earned our respect and admiration for anything new they wish to trot out to us.
Always well voiced and uniquely original in its animation, Early Man is a painstakingly crafted animated film.
Fans of British humor, British history, and visual puns and sight gags will find a fair amount of chuckles in the film's 89 minutes.
Turn to your child, niece, nephew, etc. and explain the premise. Are we sure they still want to see this?
Amusing at best, Early Man drags at times and seldom delivers significant laugh out loud moments of hilarity. Some may find this boring and uninteresting.
Maybe wait for the rental and spend the time watching Aardman's other, better films?
In Early Man, the latest animated film from the groundbreaking Aardman Studios, a group of Stone Age cavemen and women band together to try and save their ancestral land from the menacing Lord Nooth and his advancing British army.
The mechanism with which they try and save their land? Football. Or, well, soccer, to us Westerners.
So, to recap: Early Man is a Claymation, animated family film about Neanderthals playing soccer to preserve sacred land and an isolationist lifestyle, with British military advancing towards the land to mine it for minerals and ore.
Wow! Call the kids!
If this premise seems like a tough sell, it is. Early Man hopes that the visual presentation, the studio's reputation with previous audiences, will draw in the kids and adults together. For a production house that has made such memorable films as Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas, Shaun the Sheep, and the Wallace and Gromit franchise, one can imagine Early Man is more of the silly, goofy, but ultimately heartwarming fun we have grown accustomed to from Aardman in the past.
Directed by Aardman’s Nick Park, his first feature since the Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit film, 2005’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the film focuses on Dug (Eddie Redmayne), a young cavemen who finds himself at odds with bombastic Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). An arrogant leader, Nooth proclaims the Stone Age to be a thing of the past, the Bronze Age now arrived, and commands his army to churn up Dug’s land to mine for metals and ore.
Relegated to the Badlands, Dug decides to fight Nooth’s militants and, in a rather convoluted turn of events, he forms his own army of cavefolk, and even gets a Bronze Age convert, Goona (Maisie Williams), forbidden from playing football for Lord Nooth, but welcome in joining Dug’s brigade.
In some ways, this is a David vs. Goliath, or, I guess, a Dug vs. Nooth-style story. Seldom if ever laugh out loud funny, the dry puns and visual sight gags come frequently, leaving a chorus of chuckles escaping from the audience around me at our screening of the film. Early Man flirts with bigger concepts – the pros and cons of living together and in isolation, loyalty, a sense of community, power, and modernization in a time and place ill-prepared for its arrival.
Park just wants his film to be charming and funny, and give you lots to look at and laugh with. There is a throwback vibe to the Claymation effects, and CGI seems reserved for moments in a Gladiator-style arena where the football match takes place, as well as with select settings and backdrops. The film looks great, is easy to watch, and stands up well to the studio’s previous efforts.
Unfortunately, it labors through its story. Park’s concept with Mark Burton, who co-authored the screenplay with James Higginson, plays well at home, but it becomes hard to believe that British innovation, mining rights, and a soccer match is going to play well to American audiences. Frankly, it is hard to develop an emotional connection to the story and discussing the Bronze Age is not something that holds up all that well in car rides home from the theater, or in the family room when the movie has stopped playing on your television.
I liked Early Man for the most part, but found myself admiring it more than enthusiastically embracing it. I chuckled a bit, appreciate the energy and the always painstakingly impressive attention to detail Aardman puts into their productions.
Overall though, Early Man plays as a lesser Aardman film; easy to watch, but perhaps just as easily forgettable in the moments after it concludes.
CAST & CREW
Starring the Voices of: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Mark Williams, Miriam Margoyles, Nick Park, Rob Brydon.
Director: Nick Park
Written by: Mark Burton and James Higginson (screenplay); Mark Burton and Nick Park (story).
Release Date: February 16, 2018