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Early Man - Review

Early Man

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

NICK Park’s Early Man is the type of family-friendly animation, or stop-motion clay-mation, that Aardman have excelled in since the days of Creature Comforts and Wallace & Gromit.

It adheres to a classic British sense of humour, traditional values and warm-hearted storytelling. And yet, simultaneously, it’s alive with invention. Almost every scene is filled with sight gags you may only notice upon the second or third visit, while characters have an honesty and wisdom that belies some of their simpler roots.

The gags fly thick and fast from the outset, as the action picks up in the Neo-Pleistocene era, as a tribe of stone-age men and women – plus some fighting dinosaurs – have to contend with an approaching asteroid.

The impact of said astronaut is, at first, as devastating as history has taught us… But only for the moments it takes the survivors to use the piece of rock as a football. And so the beautiful game was born.

The action then leaps forward a few years to Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), a rabbit hunter who exists in a fertile valley with his sabre-toothed pig sidekick Hognob at his flank. But Dug dreams big and wants to bring down a mammoth to give his tribe more to eat.

The tribe’s peaceful existence is curtailed, however, by the arrival of Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), and his bronze-age companions. They promptly banish Dug and company to the badlands so that they can use their valley for – you guessed it [or maybe not] – football, especially since in Nooth’s club, Real Bronzio, they have the Real Madrid of their era.

In order to reclaim their valley and avoid being sent to work in the mines, Dug challenges Nooth’s team of greats to a winner-takes-all match that no one expects the Stone Age stragglers to win.

Hence, Park’s film is more Escape To Victory in premise than Jurassic Park, which may come as a surprise to some expecting a more perilous journey for its heroes to navigate. But taken as more of a sports film, it works just as effectively as anything in the genre it represents.

Plus, it’s filled with the same kind of inventive (and sometimes downright absurdist) humour that we’ve come to expect from the Wallace & Gromit company. It means that for every training montage designed to enable characters to bond and find their way, there’s something equally leftfield waiting in the wings, such as the sight of a pig giving a massage to a king in a bath!

Park and his screenwriters, Mark Burton and John O’Farrell even give room for some modern thinking, with a nod to the feminist movement in their decision to give one of the key roles to a woman – Maisie Williams’ Goona, who has more skills on the football pitch than her male peers without being afforded the opportunity to show them.

Given the reverence with which Aardman is held, it’s also one of the film’s delights to hear and see just how much fun the ensemble voice cast is having. Redmayne ensures Dug is amiable, endearing if occasionally bungling, Williams brings feisty girl qualities to Goona and Hiddleston is having a ball with a mock French accent as Nooth. The likes of Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Miriam Margolyes and Johnny Vegas also get their moments to savour and are fun to pick out.

There’s even subtle nods to current political trends for those willing to look beyond the obvious, with Brexit and Theresa May alluded to at various points. It means there’s plenty for children and adults alike to enjoy, although – at its heart – Early Man is clearly designed to indulge the inner kid in all of us. It’s just a whole lot of family-friendly fun.

Certificate: U
Running time: 84mins
UK Release Date: January 26, 2018