It’s been a full 10 years since Aardman founder and visionary Nick Park last occupied the director’s chair on one of their creations, but the joyous Early Man makes us feel as if he never left it. Early Man‘s sheer visual ingenuity and its incredibly British offbeat sense of humour (read: Dad jokes) mark it out as an obvious stablemate of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run – though with such a high bar to clear, Early Man‘s over-familiar (if heartwarming) story and character beats hold it back from matching the greatness of Aardman and Park’s very best work.
As we’ve come to expect from Aardman creations, there are one-liners and sight gags aplenty (blink and you’ll miss half of them) and a stellar, hilariously hammy voice cast – boasting the likes of Redmayne, Hiddleston, Spall (Snr), and Maisie Williams – who help bring the gorgeously-designed prehistoric universe to life in continuously unexpected ways. Those who come to Aardman films for the set pieces won’t be disappointed either – nothing here quite matches up to the train-chase sequence in The Wrong Trousers, but Park gives it a damn good try (keep an eye out for the pig massage scene… ).
It’s Early Man‘s strangely incongruous football element that makes the carefully-built world feel too often incidental to the sporting drama. At times, Early Man feels like Nick Park wanted to make a football film, and retro-fitted the prehistoric setting around this desire, which distracts from the universality of the film’s themes and message.
Early Man is a successful and welcome return to directing for the inimitable Nick Park, who lavishes his film with all the care, love and attention you’ll have come to expect. Despite failing to match the originality of his previous work, Early Man nonetheless shines on its own, bizarre, terms.
CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Timothy Spall, Maisie Williams, Rob Brydon, Miriam Margolyes, Richard Ayoade
DIRECTOR: Nick Park
WRITERS: Mark Burton & James Higginson and John O’Farrell (screenplay); Nick Park (story)
SYNOPSIS: When Dug’s (Redmayne) prehistoric tribe are displaced from their peaceful valley by Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) and his technologically advanced Bronze-Agers, they must band together to reclaim their home.