Review – Aardman returns in ‘Early Man’ with Christmas cracker puns and slapstick

Poster for 2018 animated comedy Early Man

Genre: Comedy
Certificate: PG
UK Release Date: 26th January 2018
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Nick Park
Writer: Mark Burton, James Higginson
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, Tom Hiddleston, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Johnny Vegas, Gina Yashere, Richard Ayoade, Mark Williams
Synopsis: A clan of cavemen must take on Bronze Age invaders in a game of football in order to win back control of their valley.

 

 

The arrival of a new movie from the bizarre, plasticine world of Aardman Animations is always a cause for celebration. Their latest film, directed by Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park, is a delightful comedy adventure that manages to somehow marry the world of cavemen and the Stone Age with the well-worn structure of an underdog sports movie. It’s an unashamedly silly film that dives headlong into the ludicrousness of its world to produce something that, while not life-changing, is a charming watch.

In a mark of the preposterous nature of Early Man, it opens with the invention of football, as a group of cavemen kick around the remnants of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, leaving behind a crater. Many generations later, the crater is inhabited by a tribe led by Bobnar (Timothy Spall), who is forced to rein in excitable youngster Dug (Eddie Redmayne). Bronze Age leader Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) invades the crater in search of a bronze mine and the only way for the cavemen to win back their beautiful, verdant valley is to beat champions Real Bronzio at football – a sport they believe they’ve never played.

There are few things more British than an Aardman film, so it seems natural that the studio would eventually make a movie based around football. The script gets a reasonable amount of mileage from the inherent anachronisms of a Stone Age football match, with many of those gags handed to Timothy Spall and Rob Brydon – the latter of whom voices a commentary duo and is handed such gems as “that’s not cricket, whatever cricket is”. That level of end of the pier, Christmas cracker humour is endlessly charming, as much as it doesn’t often lead to proper laugh-out-loud moments.

The film gets by almost entirely on its inherent, sizeable charm. Eddie Redmayne’s goofy performance recalls the bumbling innocence of Ben Whishaw in Paddington and his clearly platonic relationship with Maisie Williams, as Bronze Age defector Goona – football gag, ahoy! – is joyously simple. Williams suffers as a result of a very wobbly and non-specific Euro accent, which is a stark contrast to Tom Hiddleston’s broad villain, who sounds like that notorious character from Monty Python doing an impression of that notorious character from Monty Python. The supporting cast in general is packed with great British talent doing stellar work in their roles, including Mark Williams and Gina Yashere.

Unfortunately, when it comes down to plot, Early Man lacks the fun and adventure of the best Aardman movies. The basic central conceit is about all there is to it and the climactic football match feels like the generic ending of a kids’ TV show rather than the thrilling underdog ending of a major animated film. With that said, when it’s focused on silliness and slapstick, it’s an absolute joy to watch.

 

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Early Man is a sweet, enjoyable comedy that has plenty of laughs for all ages, without slotting in unnecessary adult gags for the parents. The voice performances are charming and there’s an ideal balance between slapstick and puns. The football stuff lands nicely and the Euro accents are fun, but there’s a severe lack of plot and absolutely no surprises at all.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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