Early Man is Aardman Animations’ seventh feature film (the first was 2000’s Chicken Run), though the studio has been making shorts for decades. Their character models are refined, and the animation is gorgeous, but the whole thing doesn’t come together in the way their best films do. Like most of their films, it is generally about English people united in a common cause to overthrow some sort of authority.
In this film, the English people are prehistoric. A small band of cavemen live in a primordial valley, including Dug (Eddie Redmayne), the Chief (Timothy Spall), and Treebor (Richard Ayoade). Time catches up with them when a Bronze Age civilization led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) invades their valley to mine ore. Dug accidentally ends up on their soccer pitch, and suddenly this becomes a sports film. Essentially a Bad News Bears or Mighty Ducks-type film where the (literally, in this case) uncivilized band of players must defeat a team of polished all-stars.
But the cavemen have a secret weapon in Goona (Maisie Williams), a girl from the Bronze City that loves soccer. She isn’t allowed to play because she is a girl, so she joins the cavemen as their coach and star player. And she exposes the strategic weakness of the Bronze team. They are the best players bronze can buy, but they do not play as a unit. You can see where this is going.
This is a very English film, and I can’t imagine the number of jokes and puns that flew by me because I’m not familiar with the sport in that country. Luckily, in trademark Aardman style, there are plenty of jokes throughout the film, from the finest slapstick to the best of puns. One of the jokes in this film is so well executed I was laughing from being impressed. The comedic secret weapon here is Rob Brydon, who voices a messenger bird and the two commentators providing color on the third act match. All these characters are gold and used for maximum effect. Also, there’s a really funny rabbit who appears periodically.
Despite the inventive premise, this film’s story feels a bit more rote than the rest of the studio’s output and doesn’t demonstrate the boundless imagination that the studio has demonstrated time and again. It also lacks a major comedic/action set piece that typically wows from an animation standpoint. Yet, even Aardman’s lesser output is charming, funny, and the perfect balance of sweet and savory.
Early Man opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.