Since 1972, director Nick Park and his team at Aardman Studios have brought joy to children and adults with animated films such as “Chicken Run” and “Wallace and Gromit.” Park continues with his signature style in his newest animated movie, “Early Man.” Despite misleading marketing and an uninspired plot, Park still manages to make “Early Man” entertaining with memorable characters and plenty of laughs.
“Early Man” focuses on a Stone Age tribe that hunt rabbits and only rabbits. Eddie Redmayne voices Dug, an enthusiastic and determined caveman, and Tom Hiddleston voices a greedy king named Lord Nooth. When Dug’s small village is overtaken by Lord Nooth and a group of soldiers wearing armor and riding woolly mammoths, Dug gets separated from his tribe and ends up in Lord Nooth’s city. After discovering that the citizens idolize soccer, Dug makes a deal with Lord Nooth: If his tribe members can beat a local team in a game of soccer, they will get their village back. If they don’t win, they will be forced to work in Lord Nooth’s bronze mines.
The movie’s strongest aspect is its gorgeous stop-motion animation. When Dug first arrives in the city, there is an impressive amount of movement of people, carts, animals and objects in the background of each shot. Then, in another scene, one of the cavemen throws a rock at a seemingly small duck. With a surprising use of forced perspective, it is revealed that the duck is actually humongous and a hilarious chase sequence ensues. The animation comes across clearly and fluidly. In some cases of stop-motion, it appears to frequently pause or skip. However, it is abundantly clear a lot of care was taken in “Early Man,” and Park’s hard work shows.
Without animation, none of the characters would have been brought to life. All of the characters light up the screen with quirky design and personalities. Lord Nooth stands out from the rest. His round shape and indented head, along with his purposely overexaggerated French accent, is a match made in heaven. Everything about this character is amusing. Clearly unfit to be a leader and abusing his power to take money from people, his bumbling idiocy is charming and hilarious.
Another character worthy of attention is Hognob, Dug’s pet wild boar. Although he can’t speak, he manages to communicate emotion through a well-timed eye roll or confused glance. These two characters cause the most laughter throughout the movie. They share a scene in which Lord Nooth is taking a bath and, in a hilarious case of mistaken identity, he believes Hognob is his butler and asks for a massage. Hognob attempts to oblige him through a massage and a poor attempt at playing music. Even the characters with the smallest roles are memorable, even one as simple as a carrier pigeon; it has two scenes but completely steals the show. All of the characters’ charm make the movie worth seeing.
Unfortunately, the underdog sports storyline this movie chooses feels familiar. The plot could have explored the idea of contrasting the Stone Age with the Bronze Age. It would have been amusing to see the cavemen try to fit in with a new era. In fact, this is what the movie claimed to be about; the trailer didn’t mention soccer once. Although there is a short scene when Dug first arrives in the city and is confused by the Bronze Age technology, it’s the only scene in the whole movie that deals with this type of confusion. Instead, the movie falls into a textbook version of every sports movie ever made, checking off every cliche in the genre, such as a plethora of training montages, the protagonist doubting his team and an underdog story. To see a concept with so many possibilities get bogged down by such a cliched story is upsetting, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.
“Early Man” is filled with funny and memorable characters, although the plot is something that has been done before. The movie’s humor, heart and animation make it a worthy addition to Aardman Studio’s already impressive catalog.