Early Man is the new stop-motion, clay animation film from Aardman Studios. If you're familiar with the studio's previous films or series you likely know what to expect. By continuing the studio's affinity towards good humoured, layered and utterly charming animated films that can be enjoyed by the whole family; Aardman has created another classic!
Early Man follows, Dug and his tribe of stone-age people as they're driven out of their home by the despicable, Lord Nooth and his more advanced city of bronze ("Ze age of stone is over!"). After being evicted to the volcanic badlands and realising that fighting is futile, Dug discovers his ancestors had a love for a game the bronze people call...football. With the help of Goona – a bronze city resident with her own desire to play football – Dug sets about training his tribe in an effort to win back his home and save his people from slavery or destruction.
Featuring a concoction of some of Britain's finest talent, Early Man is as wondrously voice-acted as it is animated.
Eddie Redmayne, as Dug – our lead, and the stone age tribes more plucky character – gives a typically excellent performance; as does Maisie Williams as the tough, want-to-be football player, Goona. Dug's best friend and sidekick, Hognob – lovingly grunted by Nick Park – is a delight to watch, and serves as a reminder of how perfectly Aardman can develop speechless characters that are equally as emotive and understandable as others. Rob Brydon also deserves credit for his hilarious, albeit limited role as the mimicking messenger bird; a bird that frequently brings bad news or angry messages to Lord Nooth, from his wife, Queen Oofeefa. Contributing some of my favourite scenes in the whole movie; watching as the messenger bird struts around the table, yelling and throwing fruit at Lord Nooth – as his wife would, had she been there – never got boring and had me in fits of laughter long after the scene had ended. The rest of the cast is made up of an eclectic group, including the likes of: Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Mark Williams, Johnny Vegas, Miriam Margoyles and Gina Yashere. All of whom do a superb job at creating side characters that never feel like a carbon-copy of another, or unimportant; imprinting each with their own personal flair. It's Tom Hiddleston who really steals the show for me, however. Playing the tyrannical Lord Nooth, Hiddleston gives us the perfect mixture of the evil villain and the campy bad guy (think Victor Quartermaine - Curse of the Were-rabbit); with the most extraordinary French accent, I might add!
The animation and humour on display are typical for Aardman, and for a legitimate reason. They're good at it. Really good at it. Mixing a Punch and Judy style slapstick, hilarious puns ("Go on then! Show us your tackle!") and intelligent cultural jokes is no straightforward task; and yet, Aardman rarely put a foot wrong. The combination of clever and funny off the cuff puns and jokes regarding British culture (Dug kicking the ball over the fence and having to ask for it back) will ensure there's plenty of laughs for adults. The more physical look of the animation, silly slapstick, and cheery style captures the interest of children; truly, a film for the entire family. Handmade plasticine models provide the basis for the movies painstakingly made animation. CGI is also used to add certain visual flourishes, but mostly to create the movies backdrops. Although CGI is used more than ever now; Early Man nevertheless manages to hold onto the down to earth, thumbprint look, and style that so defines Aardman Studios.
Early Man is a beautiful and laugh out loud funny animated movie from Britain's best known, and most loved animation studio. By sticking to their tried and tested formula, Aardman can sometimes seem unadventurous; but why change something that works so well? The pick-a-mix bag of gags and jokes ensures that there is something for every member of the family; no matter the age.
For me, Early Man did its job; it had me smiling from the get-go, and I didn't stop laughing until the movie finished. Although primarily about football – not a subject I have any interest in, or much knowledge of – the movie managed to keep me hooked, and I never felt like I was watching a film I just didn't get. Although not one of their best works (for me that's Curse of the Were-Rabbit), Early Man is nevertheless a wonderfully charming, and funny piece to join Aardman's already marvelous back catalogue. I've seen the movie once so far, but fully intend to see it a couple more times; to look out for the no doubt copious background gags I missed the first time around; something you can always rely on with these films. I challenge anyone to go see this movie and not come out of it smiling and feeling even just a little better about things.