Early Man Review
|Writer(s)||Mark Burton, James Higginson and Nick Park|
|Release Date||January 26, 2018|
Writer and director Nick Park’s animations are a (plasticine) building block of my childhood. Wallace and Gromit and the animals of Creature Comforts will always hold a reassuring and familiar place in my heart. This has carried on into my adult life with Aardman Animations’ feature films, but this isn’t merely nostalgia tinted glasses. For the most part the Aardman Cinematic Universe (as referred to by absolutely no-one) is utterly charming. Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is superb. Arthur Christmas is a regular festive treat in my house and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is one of my favourite animated films of the last few years (Hugh Grant is flawless as Pirate Captain). When I first saw the trailer for Early Man I was obviously excited. In fact, it made my top 5 “Most Anticipated Movies of 2018″.
So, is it roaring success or a pile of dusty old fossils?
What’s going on in Early Man?
Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his tribe live in an idyllic valley where they spend their days hunting rabbits and, well… that’s about it. Everything changes when Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) invades their valley with his modern Bronze Age ways, and it looks like the tribe is doomed to spend the rest of their lives wandering the Badlands. Strangely, it turns out that football is incredibly popular in the Bronze Age, and the only way for Dug and his tribe to win back their home is to beat Lord Nooth’s all-star team, Real Bronzio. Thankfully they have some help in the shape of Goona (Maisie Williams), as their player/coach, and from Dug’s sidekick pig friend, Hognob.
Oh so they play footba… I’m sorry did you say Hognob?
I certainly did. That’s the name they chose for a wild boar-esque sidekick character and yes, I did laugh like a child every time it came up. And let me tell you: it came up a lot.
Alright, funny names aside, tell me more about the football.
It turns out that football was invented when a meteor fell to Earth and before you could say “it’s a game of two halves”, the cavemen started hoofing the rock around the place and thus football was born.
Interesting stuff. It’s historically accurate then?
Absolutely. There were times where I wondered if I was actually watching a David Attenborough documentary.
How does it stack up against Wallace and Gromit?
I’ve been torn on how I feel about Early Man since I saw it this morning. I think it’s an entertaining film in its own right and there’s a pretty decent gag ratio. The writers have managed to keep a fairly constant stream of chuckles throughout, and they’ve managed to do the thing that all good family films manage. There’re jokes that work for kids but also have a deeper (and often cruder) meaning for the adults in the audience. It’s a perfectly serviceable and entertaining bit of family fun and I have to say I enjoyed myself.
I feel there’s a “but” coming?
There certainly is. As much as I enjoyed Early Man I don’t think it can compete with Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Pirates! or even last year’s Shaun the Sheep movie. It’s not a bad film, but it’s just quite standard fare. The story is your typical underdog sports movie and had more than a faint whiff of something like The Mighty Ducks, training montage and all.
I think where the film really falls short is in the characters. The leads in Dug, Lord Nooth and, of course, Hognob, are actually quite good and provide (Nooth in particular) some good laughs. But the supporting characters aren’t really that memorable. In fact I’m struggling to remember any of their names. But I do remember Richard Ayoade and Johnny Vegas doing a couple of voices. I think the film needed a bit more time to develop the supporting cast – Maisie Williams’ Goona has very little to do and isn’t particularly well defined. Compared to some of the other films in the Aardman Cinematic Universe (I’m trying to make it catch on) it’s an area the film is really lacking. Shaun the Sheep was ostensibly a silent film and yet all of the supporting cast felt like well rounded characters (and not just because they’re made of plasticine).
There was a lot I liked about this film. It’s got a certain charm to it and it’s definitely entertaining. There’s a steady stream of jokes that skew more towards the juvenile and slapstick end of the spectrum. But in all honesty that kind of works for me. I think I was just expecting a little bit more given how much I love some of Aardman Animation’s previous films. This one just never quite reaches the heights of what’s gone before. Apart from Flushed Away, which is the only Aardman film that I can’t bring myself to revisit. It’s a good, fun family film, but it’s just not as clever, funny or charming as its predecessors.
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