By Jack Dignan
It doesn’t matter if they’re freeing chickens from captivity, chasing down giant werewolf/rabbit hybrids, sailing the seas with friendly pirates or allowing a lost sheep to return home, Aardman Animation always manages to delight. While perhaps most famous for their work on Wallace and Gromit, if you go back and watch any of the famed stop-motion studio’s work you’ll find heart, beauty and humour in all of their filmography. If Disney/Pixar are the masters of 3D animation and Studio Ghibli is the master of 2D, Aardman is the master of stop motion.
Their latest film, Early Man, takes us back to a prehistoric era, where the age of stone is coming to an end. Dug (Eddie Redmayne) is a caveman with ambitions bigger than that of his tribe. He sees their potential in life, while the rest of them have settled for happiness in hunting rabbits. But the Stone Age is coming to an end. They’re falling behind on the times. Enter the Bronze Age. Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) is seizing control of all the land he can find, and one of the areas he’s laid siege to is Dug’s tribe’s home. To get his land back Dug strikes up a deal with Lord Nooth. If they can beat Nooth’s famed soccer team in a match, they can return home unharmed.
It’s a battle of the ages as Stone confronts Bronze in this stellar animation with an all-star cast. On top of heavy hitters Redmayne and Hiddleston, they’re joined by the likes of Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade and many others in what will no-doubt go down as one of history’s greatest sporting events. Being a soccer fan will certainly elevate your enjoyment of what’s to come, but even for the incompetent failed athletes like myself, the whirlwind of witty humour and inventive puns is enough to make this film quite the blast to watch unfold.
The stop motion design is beautifully crafted and affectionately handmade, but the story isn’t quite as thrilling as you’d hope given the impressive visual design of everything. While fun in the most Aardman of ways, the basic elements of the narrative are very formulaic and predictable. The characters aren’t nearly as memorable as Aardman animations of the past, perhaps due to the lack of connection between character and audience. They’re funny, yes, but you’ll struggle to remember any names or details of their personality. Plus, they’re all out-done by a scene stealing pig.
Early Man proves director Nick Park will forever have a home in the world of animation, and that he’s certainly been missed in the director’s chair, but despite a swift runtime and the single greatest sliced bread joke I’ve ever heard, Early Man is far from his best work. It’s a fun escapism for the family, and you’ll really struggle to not find enjoyment in it, but there’s nothing overly memorable about it, either. Still, at least we Shaun the Sheep Movie 2 to look forward to in the near future.
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