Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Selina Griffiths, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Gina Yashere, Simon Greenall, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Miriam Margoyles, Nick Park
Director: Nick Park
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Rating: PG for Stone/Rock/Boulder-Based Cartoon Physical Humor
Release Date: February 16, 2018
Early Man is the sort of film that delivers exactly what you expect and hope it would deliver. It is the latest stop-motion animated effort from Aardman, and it is just as understated, British, and charming as Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep. There might be a bit more physical humor this time around, though. It does take place in the Stone Age, after all, so it makes sense that it would feature a significant number of conks on the head.
This is one of those movies that presupposes that subsequent historical periods existed side by side against each other as opposing tribes. It may be true that the Bronze Age followed the Stone Age, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t go down with bronze-toting brutes declaring to a tribe of cavemen, “The Stone Age is SO OVER! Bronze is where it’s at now!” Of course, historical accuracy is not the point here, so these are not complaints, just descriptions of goofiness. It is worth noting, though, that ahistorical larks like Early Man like to pretend that they are historically accurate, thus why we get very precise setting-establishing subtitles like “neo-Pleistocene Age, near Manchester, around lunchtime.” It’s all in good fun!
Early Man is essentially an underdog sports movie, as the fight between the Stonies and the Bronzers comes down to a soccer match (or football, since we’re in England). After a Bronze Age army overruns the Stone Age village, caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) bumbles his way into the Bronze city and then brokers a deal with Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) in which the two societies will face off on the pitch to determine who gets to retain residence of the village. As the caveman are totally unfamiliar with the sport, this leads to a predictably silly training montage. Also fitting in with the tropes of the genre is Goona (Maisie Williams), a Bronze Age vendor who defects to help the caveman, since she is not a fan of the big bad team winning all the time without emphasizing teamwork or allowing women into its ranks.
The character design would be grotesque if it were live action, but the Aardman style renders it cute, though still weird, but adorably so. The cavemen are all buck teeth and porcine snouts, while the Bronzers sport skinny heads and exaggerated midsections. The biggest fun comes from the puns based in hindsight and the retrofitted modern technology. Noting that their tribe are early risers, Dug reminds his chief (Timothy Spall) “we’re early men,” and for all you hooligans out there, there is indeed a team named “Early Man United.” But bringing me the most joy has got to be the “instant replay,” in which plays are reenacted with crude figures on a board along the sideline. Obviously this is not the actual origin of replay, but it is fun to spend an hour and a half within a world in which it is.
Early Man is Recommended If You Like: Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep Movie
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Buck Teeth