When it comes to stop-motion animation, you may think of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline,or The Lego Movie. With American studios Laika and Warner Brothers pushing the boat in terms of the medium, it is being used more than ever before, in both features and short films. Yet in terms of the Claymation form, one studio has reigned supreme, and been the pride of British animation for over forty years. That studio is Aardman, who have given us Wallace and Gromit, Morph, Chicken Run as well as series Creature Comforts and numerous advert characters, (Lurpak anyone).
The arrival of a new Aardman film is always something to get excited about. The studios last effort brought their small screen hero Shaun, to the big screen brilliantly in Shaun the Sheep Movie. We expect a universally appealing film, filled with fun, great characters and a bizarre world to explore. Their latest effort, Early Man indeed shows the animation, humour and concept we always want from the filmmakers. Yet it lacks the usual flair the studio has and marks their first feature more suited to a younger audience.
Set in pre-historic times, Dug, (Eddie Redmayne) and his small tribe live in their stone age setting. The tribe leader Chief Bobnar, (Timothy Spall) forbids acting outside set rules, despite the tribe’s ancestors showing unknown adventures. When evil Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) invades their home with his Bronze age machines, Dug ends up in the football obsessed capital city. To get back their home, and with the help of city football expert Goona, (Maisie Williams) the unprepared tribe take on the greatest football team in the world.
Early Man is the brain child of Aardman co-founder and animation genius Nick Park, (who also ‘voices’ Dug’s faithful animal companion, Hognob). As writer and director, the films concept is simply inspired by Park asking who invented football.
The film is a prehistoric romp. It quickly sets the scene and introduces us to its tribal characters, voiced by British stars such as Johnny Vegas, Gina Yashere, and Richard Ayoade. Villain Lord Nooth arrives with his digging machines and Stone age meets Bronze. Our main hero ends up in the city and the football element arrives. Despite the brilliant voice cast, striking model making, and classic British humour, it never takes off as it should. The story feels small and you know everything that is coming narrative wise, (except that duck!) Aardman are known for their bizzarreness and the endless possibilities in their work. With Early Man, the filmmakers never makes use of these with its story.
Aardman’s quick witted humour is still present. Details such as their version of a zebra-crossing and shop name puns, run throughout the film. The football humour also comes thick and fast from fan chanting and amateur dramatics on the field. The filmmakers have, as expected, delivered brilliantly executed characters in a fun and setting. The only element that does not work here are the longer stadium shots. Building the hundreds of individual characters that would have been necessary for these shots was unfeasible. Instead CGI animation is used but its lacks the depth and appeal of the studios usual backdrops and does not match the characters.
Redmayne leads the cast here as the innocent and sweet Dug. Not his usual tone but still the character retains his awkward charm. Williams continues the studios tradition of plucky females with her Goona. Yet the stand out here is an on-form Tom Hiddelston. He delivers Lord Nooth’s one-liners with ease and an unusual but funny accent.
The film contains the humour, animation, and at times charm we have come to expect from Aardman. Yet the simplicity of the plot and sport element make this more suited to a younger audience than the studio’s usual universal appeal.
Early Man is out in cinemas now!