Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall
Director: Nick Park
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: In this stop-motion animated comedy set in prehistoric times, a tribe of primitive hunters are displaced from their homes by emissaries from a distant empire that has mastered bronze-making. However, a tribesman named Dug (voice of Eddie Redmayne) tries to win his home back by challenging the invaders to a game of soccer. Directed by Nick Park, best known as the creator of the beloved animated duo Wallace and Gromit. Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, and Richard Ayoade also lend their voices.
As a fan of classic stop-motion animation, I was excited to see another addition to Nick Park and Aardman Animations’ catalog. Early Man gave me exactly what I was looking for from another great Nick Park movie. While the story was incredibly predictable, the animation style and voice-acting give us another strong installment of Park’s career.
The story starts off with Dug (Redmayne) and his tribe of cavemen being forced off of their land as Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) and his men from the Bronze Era want to take the land to build a bronze mine on. In response, Dug travels to the Bronze Age City and challenges their top football team, Real Bronze, to a football match for the right to return to their home. If they lose the match, they will have to spend the rest of lives in the bronze mine. Unfortunately, the story is not the strong point of this film. When I first watch a trailer, I try to predict either if the movie will be good or if I can predict the plotline. In this instance, I knew from the trailer about 90% of what happened in the film. This is unfortunate, but there are elements of the film that make up for its general predictability. Specifically, the humor of the film is amazingly charming. I felt as though there was a strong connection between the characters and they are able to play off of one another and it helps develop a strong comedic foundation. The inclusion of Goona (Williams) helped bring a nice balance between the two worlds and shows us that development of technology does mean everyone benefits from it. I also enjoyed the comedy that was related to the football match and football in general. All of the jokes are very well set up and many of the creative decisions were done to reinforce these jokes. The fact that the Bronze Age citizens have French accents is a small example of a subtle joke done well, as it represents the football rivalry between England and France. Redmayne and Hiddleston do great in their voice-acting roles and their inflection and timing really drive these jokes home.
Moving on to the animation, much of the stop motion is incredibly smooth and well done. The majority of the scenes are well transitioned and fluid and are not negatively impacted or clunky at all. However, there is one scene I cannot get my mind off of due to it standing out in an ugly way. There is a scene when the giant duck is flying, and it looks so out-of-place due to how repulsive it is. It almost looks like it was computer animated in a film that was done with clay figures, so it felt very out of place in an otherwise beautifully crafted movie. While the animation is not quite as good as a movie like Chicken Run or Shaun the Sheep, it is always pleasant to see this art style make its way back onto our screens.
Overall, Early Man is a serviceable addition to the Aardman Animation collection and an enjoyable experience for everyone. They took a risk with the story concept of the movie and while the story was unoriginal, the setting and environment certainly were. It is unfortunate for Aardman Animation this film looks like it is going to bomb financially, which is a shame because it does not deserve to from a critical standpoint. While the film may not connect with audience members, it absolutely connected with me. I hope to see more animation like this from Aardman Animations as well as from any other studios out there looking to task a risk on something creative in the future.
Overall Score: 7.5/10