Released: 26th January 2018
Directed By: Nick Park
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams
Reviewed By: Van Connor
To be fair to Aardman: once you’ve proven you can make a success out of remaking The Great Escape with claymation chickens, you’re entitled to coast for a good long while afterwards. And though the British animation darling has produced some decent enough work since (Flushed Away, Curse of the Were-Rabbit), there’s really only been Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! that truly delivered any of the old stiff upper wit that truly set them apart to begin with. Early Man’s unlikely to rock that track record, settling in snugly alongside Flushed Away on their quality scale, but that’s not to say it’s not a delightfully engaging animated romp all the same.
Easily mistaken for ad campaign characters, thanks to British ad companies, the characters of Early Man represent the last of Stone Age man, whose peaceful existence is upended by the arrival of Bronze Age man and their almost Caligulan takeover of their beloved home. Cast into the nearby Badlands, the shlubby cavemen find themselves faced with a chance to reclaim their rightful home by way of a contest agains their new adversaries. A contest involving an ancient game born of kicking a spherical meteorite into a net at the end of a grass pitch…
That’s right, Aardman made a football comedy; and, cleverly, they somehow managed to keep this rather significant detail almost entirely out of Early Man’s marketing campaign to boot (badum-tish). Yet, as off-putting as that notion could potentially be to non-football fans in the audience, what director Nick Park instead goes for is something perhaps most similar to nineties rugby comedy Up ‘n’ Under – a jovial everyman sports comedy that’s still got one foot firmly off of the pitch and with an arm reaching for the nearest funny bone to tickle. That’s not to say it’s *not* an actual football comedy; lord knows there are more than a few classic footie zingers to go around, but they’re broad and populist enough that even those who don’t know their arses from their Arsenals will probably be wise to what’s going on and more than easily find the funny.
The voice cast, as is nigh on tradition for Aardman by now, prove perfectly aligned with their respective characters – a veritable who’s who of British comedy talent filling out the supporting roles around the central figures of Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, and a hilariously OTT French parody from Tom Hiddleston. There’s some sharp writing for them all to work with, more than a few belly-bursting gags to be enjoyed, and though the story will doubtless be predictable as toffee to even young children, there’s enough fun to be had that’s less than a non-issue, particularly in the face of that unbeatable Aardman stop-motion work.
Early Man is never likely to top Chicken Run on anybody’s list of favourite Aardman works, but it’ll make its way into the upper echelon to be sure. A romping good time for kids of all ages (even adult ages), it’s back of the net stuff, and it’s absolutely worth checking out.