It’s hard to turn down seeing an Aardman feature in theaters because the animation style is so beautiful, yet so simple. But noting that Nick Park hadn’t directed a feature film under their name since he gave Wallace and Gromit their own, I could only expect that Aardman was set to rise up properly after a string of mediocre films that had come along since Flushed Away (with Shaun the Sheep being the notable exception). Was Early Man the rise back to the top that we’d been waiting on from Aardman? Sadly, my answer is no, but that isn’t to say Early Man isn’t terrible but given the high standards that Aardman’s feature films have set since Chicken Run it’s rather disappointing to see that they’ve not been following up with the same level of cleverness.
Eddie Redmayne stars as Dug, a Stone Age caveman who discovers that his own era of humanity is about to come to an end when he runs into Lord Nooth of the Bronze Age. Voicing Lord Nooth is none other than the god of mischief himself, Tom Hiddleston. As Dug notices what the Bronze Age has in store for his tribe’s valley, he makes a deal with Lord Nooth, challenging his Bronze Age team to a game of football in order to claim their valley as their own. The idea of telling a story about the transition from “ages” would already have been entertaining enough but looking at where the film goes from the moment football has been introduced into the plot is where suddenly the inventive nature of said idea will fade away.
As expected from Aardman, the animation style is really lovely for the eyes but beyond the film’s basic story it also feels so strangely empty for a work directed by Nick Park. While Aardman’s humour has built itself around visual gags and clever slapstick, it doesn’t seem to work for Early Manbecause the most it will elicit are as much as a few light chuckles, for they don’t exactly fit within the football storyline. But that’s something about Early Man that always puzzled me, because the sports element could have been a part of the storyline where it comes down to the discovery of football (which is shown briefly within the opening of the film), though having it as the central driving force of the plot almost feels so jarring when you already have another idea centering around something completely different.
The voice cast is clearly having fun with their roles, Eddie Redmayne and Maisie Williams make for a likable duo but then there are other voices that also don’t quite feel as if they fit within their characters. Such an example comes by within the presence of Timothy Spall as Chief Bonbar and Richard Ayode as the cowardly Treebor – while both are always welcoming presences to draw oneself into an animated film, there’s nothing about their roles that ever really makes their characters shine because they don’t even feel right to play the characters who they are voicing. Tom Hiddleston makes for an entertaining villain as Lord Nooth, but even his character is rather forgettable.
There’s a clever idea present in Early Man but you can really tell that it’s sidelined in favour of a sports story that doesn’t stand out from much of the rest. But this is a bit of a step up from Aardman’s past mediocrities, for at least having Nick Park back behind the camera is a plus. It’s a shame that when you know what more can Aardman be, the most that Early Man really feels like is a movie that merely exists and doesn’t extend much beyond there. For a moment it’ll be fun because it still carries enough of their charm but at the end of the day, it won’t have much impact to leave behind.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via StudioCanal.
Directed by Nick Park
Screenplay by Mark Burton, James Higginson
Produced by Peter Lord, David Sproxton, Nick Park, Carla Shelley, Richard Beek
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, Tom Hiddleston, Richard Ayoade, Maisie Williams
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 89 minutes