Sporting an impressive array of voice talent including Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall and Maisie Williams, Early Man is the story of a young caveman called Dug. Following the invasion of his tribe’s valley by the money-hungry Lord Nooth, Dug must somehow whip his tribe of not-that-capable cavemen into an actual football team capable of defeating the champions – Real Bronzio – in a game that will either see them return home or be banished to the mines to work out the rest of their lives in slavery.
Oh, and yes, that wasn’t a typo. The champions are really called Real Bronzio. If that name makes you shudder, then this might not be the film for you. The puns come thick and fast to the point where by the end of it, I was almost begging the movie to stop. “Please movie, just stop with the puns. I know you’re an Aardman film and I should expect them, but we’ve gone beyond even the Dad-joke level of things now. This could almost be described as a crime against comedy.”
It also plays somewhat fast and loose with, well, everything else. We go from Flintstones-esque cavemen with flint spears using actual baby crocodiles in place of clothes pegs (crocodile clips, get it?) to Bronze Age war elephants, modern steel taps and glass doors. It wasn’t until about halfway through the running time that my brain threw in the towel and decided to just roll with it and not think too hard about the setting.
The actual animation is as lovely and expressive as we’ve come to expect from Aardman, with particular standouts being the man-eating Mallard, the Primordial Soup (which is most definitely sporting more eyes than I’m comfortable seeing in anything I eat) and, my personal favourite, the somewhat perturbed spider that the chief uses for a pillow.
Most of the other characters are… well, they’re just kind-of there. While they’re all perfectly serviceable, Dug is the only one who gets any real quantity of screen time. I found it very difficult to decide what the cavemen were actually called and ended up having to resort to a Wiki to make sure I was hearing it right. The same goes for Lord Nooth; I spent most of the film believing he was actually called ‘Lord Nose’. It isn’t helped by the characters having names like ‘Eemaks’ and ‘Oofeefa’, which don’t exactly trip off the tongue like ‘Wallace’ and ‘Gromit’ or even ‘Morph’.
I’m also not a particular fan of football, so I’m not sure if a fan might get more from this movie than I did. I found it to be perfectly fine. Just fine. I’m not sure it’s anything I’d be in a hurry to re-watch.
The DVD and Blu-ray release includes a commentary track with Nick Park and Sim Evans-Jones as well as seven featurettes that look into all the behind-the-scenes details involved in the creation of the characters. My personal favourite is ‘Match of the Clay’, which looks into how Aardman recreates the atmosphere of a football match as well as capturing the audio of a real crowd in a football stadium, adapting the usual terrace chants and calls to the setting of the movie.
This is another solid release from Aardman, but is not destined to become a classic in the vein of Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep or even Chicken Run. Solid, but ultimately a bit forgettable. It may appeal more to families with football-mad children but I think I’ll stick with my copy of The Wrong Trousers instead.
Early Man is available on digital download and releases on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD today (28 May 2018)