DIR: Nick Park • WRI: Mark Burton, James Higginson • PRO: Richard Beek, Peter Lord, Nick Park, Carla Shelley, David Sproxton • DOP: Charles Copping, Dave Alex Riddett, Paul Smith, Peter Sorg • ED: Sim Evan-Jones • MUS: Harry Gregson-Williams, Tom Howe • CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne
Aardman has been the go-to house for stop-motion animation for the past quarter century. With four Academy Awards to their name even the studio’s missteps such as Flushed Away are still adored by many. Their latest film Early Man maintains its distinct British charm and unique stop-motion models though it can’t quite reach the heights of classics such as Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Chicken Run though it does possess something special of its own.
Caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) lives a contented life with his pet boar Hognob (director Nick Park) and tribe in a lush crater valley. The arrival of a Bronze Age society led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) upsets the tribe’s peaceful existence forcing them out into the viciously volcanic Badlands. Dug realises the only way to win the valley back is by challenging the Germanic invaders to their sacred, traditional game: football.
That’s the crux of the film, football, which happens to be a lot more interesting when it’s played by clay models with big teeth. The story is watertight lasting long enough to fully realise all of its potential as well as keeping younger viewers entertained for the duration. Dug has the ambition of Ginger from Chicken Run and the amicability of Wallace of the studio’s most famous duo. Redmayne steps away from his more serious or nervy roles to give an endearing performance while Hiddleston pulls off a convincingly ridiculous French accent. The supporting cast are mostly passable with the likes of Richard Ayoade given little to work with and the excellent Rob Brydon given far too much as a messenger pigeon and two identical football commentators. The only true dud is Maisie Williams whose accent fails to land on any real destination.
Three destinations feature prominently in Early Man: the valley, the city and the Badlands. CGI is used to enhance backgrounds and moments that would normally be impossible to animate using traditional stop-motion. It never distracts from the iconic characters however who all come across as personalities drawn from all walks of British life. Details that have been there since Aardman’s earliest days still remain. Fingerprints on clay, a dusting of hair from false eyebrows and the classic big-toothed grin every character proudly displays. Still, the weight of past achievements weighs on both the studio and the films it produces.
Early Man struggles to maintain the same amount of whimsy all of its earlier films had. A film that heavily features dinosaurs is hard to inject whimsy into although it tries it’s hardest. Alongside this the choice of the fiery wastes and brown and grey city outside of the tribe’s verdant valley often make the film’s location dull and boring to look at. Though not of the same calibre as their most paradigmatic work Early Man will undoubtedly be recognised as an instant classic.
PG (See IFCO for details)
Early Man is released 26th January 2018