Film discussion

Early Man: A history of Aardman Animations

If you have seen any kind of stop motion or claymation movie or TV show in the past three decades, chances are it was made by Aardman Animations (or possibly MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch). Aardman are of course the people behind the fantastic Wallace and Gromit as well as a whole host of other shows and films with a history stretching back as far the 1970s.

Founded in 1972 by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, the studio’s early success came in the form childrens’ television and music videos. They produced parts of a BBC programme aimed at deaf children titled Vision On and the duo were the creators of Morph, who many of our older readers may remember from a kids TV show featuring the artist Tony Hart. Aardamn helped put together the music video for the Peter Gabriel hit ‘Sledgehammer’. From the beginning, they were set for success.

As Aardman expanded, so did the staff with Nick Park – the thing not made of clay most synonymous with the studio – joining in the 1980s. He was behind Creature Comforts, which was a series of shorts featuring various animals talking and  complaining about everyday, mundane things. It was funny, charming and a big hit, winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short.

Park also launched the duo that put the studio on the map, if of course hit music videos and an Oscar had not done that already. In 1989 Wallace and Gromit debuted with A Grand Day Out. It is genuinely hard to believe that this came out nearly 30 years ago.  The enigmatic inventor and cheese aficionado  Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his silent and stressed out canine companion Gromit head to the moon in their first adventure. Again, like Creature Comforts, this was charming, funny and extremely well put together and was actually nominated for the same Academy Award as Creature Comforts. Wallace and Gromit did win two Oscars of their own however with the follow ups The Wrong Trousers, where a pair of robotic trousers created by Wallace is taken over by an evil penguin, and A Close Shave in which a robotic dog owned by Wallace’s new love interest tries to turn a load of sheep into dog food.

The success of Wallace and Gromit led to collaboration with Dreamworks and the world of feature films, the first being Chicken Run, a parody of The Great Escape and starring Mel Gibson and a strong supporting voice cast as a bunch of chickens who try to escape a pair of farmers who are turning them all in to food. It was a critical success, and still holds a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Chicken Run led to a spate of feature films and, after a decade away, Wallace and Gromit returned in Curse of the Were Rabbit with Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes and Peter Kay joining Peter Sallis in the voice cast. The movie picked up another Academy Award for the studio, this time for Best Animated Feature Film. A year later,  in 2006, Aardman moved away from stop motion briefly to make their first computer animated movie, Flushed Away. After its release, Aardman and Dreamworks parted company due to creative differences.

In the last decade Aardman have continued to put out movies apace. In 2007 we saw the dynamic duo of Wallace and Gromit return in A Matter of Loaf and Death, and in 2011 they produced one of the best modern Christmas movies in Arthur Christmas. Just a year later they made their first ever 3D stop motion film in The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists which was, like you would expect, a commercial and critical success, although perhaps not hitting the heights of some previous output.

There has also been a Shaun the Sheep solo movie, with a sequel on the way; and their latest film, Early Man, starring Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston and Maisie Williams, tells the story of a tribe of cavemen who come across the Bronze Age, hit UK hit cinemas late last month.

Since its creation in 1972, Aardman has created a long list of movies, shorts, tv shows, music videos and games and while it has ‘hit the big time’, it still retains its heart, charm and character, while truly inspiring a whole new generation of animators.

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