Early Man, 2018.
Directed by Nick Park.
Featuring the voice talents of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Miriam Margolyes, Richard Ayoade, Mark Williams, and Johnny Vegas.
At the dawn of time, when mammoths still roamed the Earth, caveman Dug brings his tribe of rabbit hunters together when their peaceful valley is threatened by the arrival of the Bronze Age and the destruction of their home.
Back in the days when he was a football mad Brummie stand-up, one of Jasper Carrot’s best routines involved a trip to an away match, with his beloved Blues taking on the might of Manchester United. The Man U fans were, in his words, Neanderthals. In Nick Park’s Early Man, they’re not just the fans, but the inventors of the game.
So the setting is Stone Age Manchester. While initially this looks like Park’s little joke, it’s actually all part of the storyline, with a Stone Age tribe pitched against a mightier Bronze Age settlement and re-discovering the beautiful game created by their ancestors. All cavemen and mammoths Early Man is not. But, as the film points out itself, Early Man United it is.
While the Stone Age scenes are replete with the customary Aardman charm, the film overall doesn’t quite hit the spot in the same way as the company’s other features. All the familiar tropes are there – cheeky little puns in the newspaper headlines, an animal which is more intelligent that its master (in this case, the boar Hognob voiced – or grunted – by Nick Park himself) – but their familiarity is one of the film’s shortcomings. It’s more of the same and, while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, there’s a lack of the delightful originality that made the earlier Aardman movies so refreshing. And it leaves the audience feeling just a touch short changed.
The supporting characters, mainly Dug’s tribe, suffer a similar fate. There’s a goodly number of them, just as in Chicken Run, but then they were actual characters. Here, they’re one joke wonders, created to have just one characteristic, be it a catch phrase or an accent. And that’s your lot. It makes for short lived – and over-repeated – gags. The main roles fare better: Eddie Redmayne is the right choice for the likeable reluctant hero Dug, while Tom Hiddleston sounds like Monty Python And The Holy Grail’s French knight with a touch of Clouseau thrown in for good measure.
Among the supporting cast are the voices of Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon (in multiple roles), Miriam Margolyes and Richard Ayoade. There are the customary parodies, including the inevitable football commentators, both voiced by Brydon. There’s plenty of pun-filled banter, but one of them cries out to be voiced by Paul Whitehouse’s Ron Manager alter ego, while the other looks so much like David Tennant, he really should be voiced by the former Doctor himself. It would have been far funnier but, as it is, it’s as you’d expect and little more.
Maybe that’s the root of the problem with Early Man. The name Aardman creates high expectations and, as far as the animation is concerned, it’s as joyful and perfectly executed as ever. But the wit and originality that came before, the gleeful sharing of in-jokes, has faded so that an air of déjà vu hangs over the film. It doesn’t do anything wrong as such, but the sad truth is that it’s one of Aardman’s weaker offerings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.