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Early Man – Movie Review

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Early Man – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

Some of the most delightful animation from the past 45 years have come from the Bristol-based stop-motion house Aardman. With sharp-witted minds like Peter Lord, Nick Park and Richard Starzak crafting these humourous plasticine-led films and series, there is a reason the studio continues to thrive to this day. Early Man marks another worthy addition to the catalogue with Park again directing a charming and funny tale. By focusing on cavemen and the first football game, Park and his team find humour in our ancestors and British fans’ devotion to the sport. While Early Man may not reach the heights of Aardman’s best work, there is a ton to appreciate in this molding of prehistory.

Early on, there is a clear love for stop-motion dinosaur effects as cavemen watch the ferocious beasts fight on. Park even frames the shots in a way reminiscent of 1950s B-movies. Anyone who has seen Park’s previous work, from the Wallace & Gromit films to Chicken Run, will know how he constructs lighting and visuals not that dissimilar to a live-action film. The laughs also come immediately, although the goofy appearance of Park’s cavemen is already amusing. The toothy grins of his creations are a wonderful Nick Park staple and that design somehow makes Early Man’s central hero Dug that much more endearing. There’s a softness to Eddie Redmayne’s vocal performance that also adds to making him a likeable presence and there is a rooting interest in his primary goal to help his tribe.

While a lot of jokes in Early Man are of the expected caveman variety with an emphasis on animal hunts and being impressed by a wheel, the screenplay (credited to Mark Burton and James Higginson) avoids obvious Flintstones-like gags. The closest are shop names with rock puns. Most of the humour is centered around football, with a clear emphasis on showing the dedication some have for watching a ball being kicked around a field. In many ways, this might be Aardman’s most British film, which is saying a lot. Other winning gags come from the use of a messenger bird and Dug’s loyal pet pig trying to distract Tom Hiddleston’s French-accented antagonist with a massage.

Early Man’s story is a bit more familiar than we usually expect from Aardman. It’s the classic underdog sports story with a team attempting to beat the odds. It’s a credit to Nick Park that he is still able to make the film fresh, but it’s hard not to see the beats coming. A lot of the jokes surrounding the idiocy of Dug’s tribe also start to feel repetitive after a while. Richard Ayoade’s talents seem particularly wasted, although another caveman has a great running gag with a rock. Early Man also could have done with a bit less toilet humour, but if one joke doesn’t hit, there’s a more successful gag right around the corner. Rob Brydon has a particularly funny turn as a pair of football match commentators who spout obvious jokes. Somehow, the fact that they are obvious only makes them funnier.

Early Man may not rank among the Aardman classics, but the sharp humour and inventive set-pieces are still on display. Nick Park and his plasticine figures are able to make even a simple joke of a caveman tumbling through stadium seats funny. There’s an appealing charm to his work and the personalities he creates that makes each film an event worth anticipating. Whether it’s chickens making an escape or an inventor and his dog companion, he knows how to bring humour in addition to loveable characters. There are probably multiple jokes in Early Man that won’t be spotted on the initial viewing and the attention to detail in Aardman productions always make them worth revisiting.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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