- Early Man
Working wonders with the script and paying attention to the stop-motion animation details, Early Man is a feelgood film that easily qualifies into the champions’ league of Aardman animation.
Once upon a time during lunchtime in a place that’s yet to become Manchester, a small, round asteroid falls from the sky. Curiosity prompts the locals to throw a burning stone at each other to the outbursts of enthusiasm from the entire tribe. Centuries go by, and their community still occupies the same space; they’re hunting rabbits and practising their dance moves by the bonfire, only guessing what their ancestors were up to. One day, they’re interrupted by the futuristic visitors who claim the valley for themselves. When Dug, one of the cavemen, accidentally makes it onto the enemy’s turf, he discovers a game that could help his tribe to get their valley back. Immediately, he challenges the Bronze Age settlement to a football match. Its leader Lord Nooth agrees under one condition: if the tribe doesn’t win, they’ll work in mines for the rest of their lives. But can the sympathetic cavemen figure out how to play as a team to beat the footy superstars?
If you’re a football fan, you’re most certainly going to find yourself giggling at the things that set you on fire when you watch your favourite team play; the animation cracks jokes at little things that might sound far too familiar. But even if you need to understand the rules of the game, you’re likely to find humour in the variety of quips delivered by the writing team. Many slapstick gags and simple yet effective puns extend this world beyond the game and make it totally hilarious – even for those who don’t understand the sport much.
Many comical parallels are drawn between the modern inventions and their prehistoric equivalents in a way you could compare to The Flinstones. The cavemen use massive tarantulas as pillows, shave with bugs that switch on and off, and clip their laundry to ropes with tiny reptiles. In the bronze age, the film pokes fun at the feudal system of “voluntary contributions that everyone has to pay” or the advancements in slicing bread; then, it plunges into history and adds creatures that resemble Hannibal’s elephants dressed up as bulldozers. It even creates a pigeon message delivery service that records information with some extra touch. Catching all of these subtleties when they spring at you every second seems like treasure-hunting, and the film doesn’t merely settle for “comedy bronze”. There are so many little details you pick up on that you can’t help but praise Nick Park for juggling (or shall I say dribbling?) these references.
Splendid voice work from talented British actors is also a highlight of the film. We’ve got Eddie Redmayne as Dug, Maisie Williams as Goona, Tom Hiddleston as Lord Nooth, as well as Richard Ayoade as Treboor, Gina Yashere as Gravelle and Timothy Spall as Chief Bobnar. Each of them develops a humorous touch to their characters, adding little quirks that become a character’s emblem. Goona, for instance, will remind you of Bend It Like Beckham. Lord Nooth’s love for massages and bronze coins also make for uproarious moments, while Dug’s enthusiasm stands opposite Chief Bobnar’s reasonable attitude for extra comedic effect. The entire team add their own characteristics to make their personalities memorable; pair their excellent delivery of quick-witted puns with plasticine characters, upbeat music (Kaiser Chiefs, for instance) and the handmade vibe, and you end up with a delightful, light-hearted show that continues the traditions of Aardman’s beloved stories.
Early Man scores a goal after a goal with its script, commits to teamwork when it comes to delivery and stays highly energetic all the way through ninety minutes of its runtime. Ultimately, it walks out with a well-deserved comedic triumph. Whether you’re a fan of sports movies or not, you’ll enjoy the richness of puns and references throughout, as well as attention to detail that gives you a wondrous “made with care” feel. Without a doubt, it belongs to the champions’ league of Aardman animation.
Early Man opens in the UK on the 26th of January 2018.