Review: Early Man – Fun-Filled Family Movie With A Few Frustrations

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20 Jan 18

A journey of 5 years, in over 40 studios and involving over 45 animators has resulted in Aardman’s 7th feature film following on from the 2015 success of ‘Shaun the Sheep’. Taking up the voice roles this time are Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne and Maisie Williams as the characters of Lord Nooth, Dug and Goona. Each of them take on an accent, so it doesn’t straight away seem obvious that they play the lead characters.

The ensemble are a lot easier to spot; Jonny Vegas, Miriam Margolyes, Timothy Spall and Richard Ayoade satisfy the most eager audience members who like to spot British talent in homegrown films. Nick Park directs and is truly a passionate creator, trying to stay faithful to Aardman’s origins as a claymation animator, while taking on a very challenging hybrid of sport and history themes.

The story follows Redmayne’s character Dug, a caveman, and his tribe who live in a valley somewhere near Manchester and discover that they are pretty useless at everything. With the rolling in of the Bronze Age, we meet the megalomaniacal Lord Nooth (Hiddlestone) who decides to commandeer the valley and pushes Dug’s tribe out to the wastelands. Dug ventures to Lord Nooth’s city with his sidekick HobNob (“voiced” by Park himself) and discovers the citizens of this new Bronze Age City are obsessed with football and meet at Lord Nooth’s stadium each week to watch their team thrash a set of competitors. Dug challenges Lord Nooth to a game in an effort to win back their valley but has to enlist the help of market trader Goona to help train his tribe.

The plot deals with the greed of Lord Nooth, peppers humour courtesy of Rob Brydon’s messenger bird, and explores self-confidence and expectation through Dug and his tribe. Margolyes makes an entertaining arrival for the final set piece as The Queen and helps wrap up the narrative ever so sweetly.

The narrative was charming, but very predictable, and definitely suited the targeted young audience. I can’t help feel that Aardman hasn’t quite found the spark that was present in some of their previous movies. As an adult, I appreciated the construction and at times found myself considering the effort the production team must have gone to developing such great scenes including Hobnob’s massage and the tribes training montage. That’s where I knew it had lost its dynamic quality that I had found in Were-Rabbit or Shaun The Sheep – I was too focused on the technology and not enthralled by the story or characters. Then again maybe my lack of football passion and limited interest for History play considerable parts in my lacklustre appreciation.

A fun-filled family movie that is sweet and gentle, but it sports a few frustrations for Aardman’s loyal fanbase.