I adore claymation and in particular, I’m a fan of the group that created “Wallace and Gromit”. I love “Wallace and Gromit.” The same group has developed a new film, “Early Man” and I was so thrilled to get the opportunity to review it. Not only was the style of the animation exactly what I was looking forward to but the characters and story were hilarious. Both adults and children will have a blast seeing this new animated film, enjoying the theme of family and teamwork.
The story starts out with a meteor crashing down to earth in prehistoric times in the area of Manchester and men using that meteor to create the game of football, what Americans know as soccer. Several ages later, we meet Dug, a Stone Age caveman played by Eddie Redmayne. Dug, his pet wild boar Hognob (Nick Park) and his tribe live in the same valley as their forefathers, living simple lives of hunting rabbit and celebrating together, having lost any knowledge of football, outside cave pictures. Dug is interested in hunting larger animals but Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) doesn’t think his tribe is capable of that level of teamwork.
All that changes when Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), leader of a Bronze Age City, invades their valley and forces most of the tribe to retreat to the Badlands because he wants access to the ore located there. Dug gets separated from his tribe and ends up in the Bronze Age City, where he ends up on the sacred turf and discovering the excitement of football. Unfortunately, he is caught and Lord Nooth is intending to have him killed, saying the age of Stone is over until Dug decides to challenge the city champions of football to a game to decide the fate of his people. If they win, they get their valley back. If not, they end up down in the mine, slaving away.
With the help of Goona (Maisie Williams) a City girl who wants the chance to play on the sacred ground, he convinces his tribe that they have a chance. Can Early Man beat the best players in the City? And even if they have a chance, will Lord Nooth allow them to win when he wants the ore the valley contains? Or will Lord Nooth’s schemes be found out by the Queen of the Bronzios, Queen Oofeefa (Miriam Margolyes) and put to a stop?
Directed by Nick Park and produced by Aardman Animation, what makes me love this film is the exact same elements that I love about the previous films the creators have worked on, the style of animation and the almost satirical humor embedded in the story. Written by Mark Burton (who was also one of the writers of Wallace and Gromit) and James Higginson, the pair have created a story that blends jokes that will have adults in stitches while still entertaining children with silliness that had them giggling. Every time Hognob, the pet boar showed up, the children at the screening were enthralled.
The jokes began from the very beginning, timed perfectly with telling us the location was near Manchester. Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with football knew that the movie was going to reference one of Britain’s most famous teams, Manchester United. With the Bronze team, a stand-in for City, there are so many jokes that play on the rivalry between the two teams and poke fun at the antics of fans while still edifying the sport, giving a glimpse of what is called The Beautiful Game in England.
Even in the middle of the football jokes, there are other jokes that will make both children and adults laugh. Hognob was a favorite of both the children in the theatre as well as myself. Hognob is unusual. As the Bronze age denizens of the City invade the village, Hognob growls a warning, determined to protect his tribe. This play on his nature continues throughout the film, the character barking and carrying on in ways completely unlike a wild boar and becoming, like Gromit, one of the funniest characters in Aardman Animation. The children called him a dog-pig and it fits. His antics throughout the story are silly and great fun.
Beyond the humor, the heart of the story is about family and working together to overcome obstacles. While the tribe of cavemen start out inept and silly, they care about each other and it is that togetherness that helps them learn the game of football and help each other throughout the movie. The theme is perfectly focused on bringing families to the theatre, allowing both adults and children to enjoy the concepts.
The voice actors perform incredibly well. Eddie Redmayne as Dug is ingenious, kind, and determined. The actor makes us root for the character and for his tribe. Maisie Williams plays Goona as strong and skilled. Her voice suits the character and she ends up being the lynchpin that can help the cavemen unite. Nick Park as Hognob is pure genius, the only sounds he makes growls and barks but always perfectly timed to get a laugh or punctuate a serious moment. The tribe, including a rock, are a complete delight. Tom Hiddleston was wicked and perfectly cast as Lord Nooth, down to his French accent and delight for bronze. Timothy Spall as Chief Bobnar is both wise and heartwarming while Rob Brydon does an incredible stint lending humor as both a message bird and commentators at the big game.
While the story is what drives the film, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the quality of the animation. There is a wondrous blend of claymation with more realistic animation that allows the stop motion and the cast of characters to shine. The crew of Aardman Animation have built a ingenious environment as well as interesting creatures, including a giant duck that is part of getting the Stone age crew to their big game. The visual is as much a treat as the story.
The only tiny aspect that might lessen American audience enjoyment is some of the jokes are British gags. While most in the audience got the reference to Manchester United, there were some references that I know I certainly missed. One of my fellow reviewers explained that the reference to The Beautiful Game is what the English call the game of Football, for example. Another is a pair of commentators, Brian and Bryan, that are well known and famous figures in the sport but might be unknown to Americans. Despite these small bits, the humor does still carry and the audience loved the film.
Between the amazing animation, the heartwarming story, uproarious humor and the impressive voice acting, even if you don’t have children, you might want to catch this film at the movies, especially if you’re a fan of claymation or anything by the Aardman group. If you do have children, this is definitely a movie that the whole family will love, heartwarming and fun. With laughs for the young and old alike, this is one I’ll watch again and again, especially for Hognob, my new favorite animated character.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Set at the dawn of time, when dinosaurs and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, EARLY MAN tells the story of how one brave caveman unites his tribe against a mighty enemy and saves the day!