Aardman entertainment has a long and honoured history in stop-motion film, from Wallace and Gromit to Shaun the Sheep setting the benchmark for the genre each time. The studio returns (led by veteran Director Nick Park) with the comedy Early Man, set between the Stone and Bronze Ages it is charmingly funny for both adults and children. Choosing to satirise cavemen films, ‘Britishness' and Football it's a bizarre mix that gels well.
A small tribe of hunter-gatherers are led by Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) living a relatively relaxed life until an ‘advanced' civilization from the bronze age take over their land to mine the bronze beneath it. This new civilization is led by Lord Nooth voiced by Tom Hiddleston, though you couldn't tell underneath the faux French accent. Nooth is brilliantly funny, by being both pompous and threatening he's allowed to be silly – a scene where he gets a massage from a pig is hysterical.
The small tribe is down on its luck until caveman Dug strikes a bargain for the fate of his tribe. In a football match. From then on, the film satirises football, from its' fans to the teams (the warring tribes are based near Manchester), which even as a novice to football I understood. Early Man's plot has more than a passing resemblance to the Bollywood film Lagaan , which is also about an invading civilization challenging the natives to a sport in return for freedom. While Early Man isn't telling a wholly original story it does lead to many hilarious jokes.
Claymation still has that unique charm amongst animation styles, but Aardman now competes with other stop-motion companies such as Laika (Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline) which have raised the bar for story-telling and visual effects. Early Man finds itself a step behind these newer production companies for once, but focuses on its strength in comedy rather than drama.
Eddie Redmayne is completely unrecognisable as the voice of Dug, as is Maisie Williams as Goona. Goona is a football star from the bronze age tribe, but as a girl she's not allowed to play for them; the cavemen are less fussed and she joins Dug to train him and his tribe. This leads to the usual training montage first developed to its best in Rocky, but here it's played for laughs when they ruggedly train in volcanoes and running away from beasts.
Early Man goes through all the regular sporting clichés you would expect and ends how you think it would, but it is a wonderfully funny journey all the same. Dug is optimistic and memorable, as is the rest of the tribe, together the mix of cavemen and football jokes deliver a tight well told comedy using nostalgic claymation.
Early Man is released on the 26th January 2018.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam
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