Gromit-less Park: Our Review of ‘Early Man’.

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 16, 2018
Gromit-less Park: Our Review of ‘Early Man’.

Debuting in theaters this weekend from stop-motion animation studio Aardman comes the latest from multiple Academy award-winning director and creator of Wallace and his faithful dog Gromit Nick Park, Early Man. The film marks Park’s first feature length film as director since 2005’s Curse of the Were-Rabbit and even though Wallace and Gromit are nowhere to be seen, Park’s distinctive animation style is abundant.

Early Man tells the story Dug, a Neanderthal man living with his tribe in a lush valley after the meteor that causes the extinction of the dinosaurs. After their home is invaded by industrial machines from the neighboring Bronze Age colony, Dug must unite his tribe and fight back- by challenging the bronze age Football (ne- soccer) team to a match to win back the valley. Dug enlists Goona, a girl that is forbidden from playing because of her gender, to help the primitive team learn the game in time for the big match, all while the villainous Lord Nooth plots a way to ensure victory for his Bronze Age team.

With a story conceived by Mark Burton and Park himself, the director has used the setting of early age man as a simple backdrop for making a film all about one of England’s national obsessions, football. The film is very little setup and a lot of football, with the title Early Man even being alluded to in the film and referenced in a quick quip from the football announcers talking about “Early Man United”, a direct poke at the immensely popular football club. Due to this almost unwavering focus, the film could be lost on some of us ‘across the pond’ as the Brits may say, as not everyone will know the intricacies of the game and some of the gags and jokes are very ‘game knowledge dependant’ here. But there are enough sight gags and goofs to inspire some chuckles from the audiences and kids are very likely to gravitate to the very Gromit-like Hognob, Dug’s sidekick and comic relief.

The film does manage to put together an excellent voice cast though, and its evident that they are having fun with their voice over work here. Eddie Redmayne infuses Dug with a youthful exuberance, and Tom Hiddleston hams it up as the notorious Lord Nooth. The supporting cast also includes some recognizable names like Stand-Up comedian Gina Yashere, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, veteran voice and character actor Miriam Margolyes and Park himself as Hognob. But the real stand out is Maisie Williams who makes her Goona irresistibly spunky and charming in almost every scene.

As to be expected from an Aardman production, the animation is pretty great, even if the story is a little weak. A narrow focus combined with some characters that are clearly repurposed from previous films (i.e. Hognob) lead the film the feel uneven throughout while still delivering some big and even uproarious laughs. There is still plenty to recommend here. Kids will be amused with the slapstick type nature of some of the characters and the fun animation style, while parents will likely still get some the references that may fly over the kid’s heads and enjoy the performance of Hiddleston as Nooth.

Far from a miss, Early Man is also not going to rank up there with other Aardman fare like the glorious Chicken Run or the aforementioned Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but it’s still better than 2015’s Shaun the Sheep and likely more than 50% of what other animated films will arrive in theaters in 2018. I imagine this film spun out from the idea of “what would a Wallace and Gromit movie set in the age of early man/dinosaurs be like?” Sadly, this isn’t the film to answer that question.

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