Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and caveman roamed the earth, Early Man follows Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his sidekick Hognob (Nick Park) as they live their idyllic lives in a valley along with Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) and the rest of Dug’s tribe. One day, their home is invaded by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), who wants to mine the valley for bronze. The only way to take back their land is to defeat Nooth and his Bronze Age City in the ‘ancient’ sport of football. A vendor from the Bronze Age City named Goona (Maisie Williams) is on hand to help.
Aardman Animations have ventured into CGI animation in the past with the likes of Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas, but it is their stop-motion animation features like Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and Shaun the Sheep Movie which have proven their most enduring. As with their Creature Comforts series and Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit short films, the work of the studio has always proven to be nothing short of charming and lovely, and so is the case with their latest project, Early Man.
Better than 2012’s The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! though not quite of the same standard as Wallace and Gromit, Early Man benefits from an appealing animation style, delightful sense of humour and quaint array of characters that are very much in keeping with what we’ve come to expect of Aardman and Nick Park. Park previously directed all the Wallace and Gromit shorts and features, as well as the exceptional film Chicken Run, and though it has been ten years between his last directorial project and this, he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The endurance of Aardman in Early Man can also be seen in the character of Hognob, Dug’s wild boar buddy, who definitely shows signs of inspiration from Gromit, and will no doubt prove to be popular among kids. Speaking of, Early Man will easily appeal to both young and old, with jokes in store for each age bracket, and while football fans will be delighted to see the game feature so prominently, the match itself is highly playful so as to be fun for all audience members.
Cast-wise, there aren’t any particular standouts, and while it is amusing to hear Hiddleston’s French accent as Lord Nooth, the villain is not very memorable. Redmayne similarly doesn’t bring much to Dug other than a youthful enthusiasm while Williams seems to struggle to maintain the accent of her character. Rob Brydon gets to be the most creative. He plays both the message bird as well as football commentators Brian and Brian, and relishes the chance to unleash hilarious pun after pun. Still, it's a small complaint and in any case, transforming the actors' voices so as to make them unrecognisable seems to have been a creative choice on Park's part. At 85 minutes, Early Man is the ideal mid-day movie outing to give you a giggle and remind you that there are animation studios out there aside from Disney producing really creative, engaging material.