Film Review – Early Man
Meh. It’s okay.
Look, Aardman Animations has long been a high benchmark for quality stop-motion hand crafted animation. From their very earliest works like the incredibly funny Oscar winning short Creature Comforts (that’s the one with the zoo animals giving interviews to an unseen documentary crew) to Chicken Run to Shaun the Sheep to of course their masterpiece characters Wallace and Gromit, they have an amazing track record of charmingly hilarious creations. Their character designs are funny just at initial sight. Their stories are usually extremely clever and original. And especially knowing how painstaking their style of animation is, their filmmaking craft is quite amazing. So the fact that their newest film Early Man is just kind of okay can be considered a let down.
The story takes place roughly somewhere between the Stone Age and the emergence of the Bronze Age. At the beginning, a meteor crashes to Earth and some Cavepeople find it. It oddly resembles a Football (since this is a British film we’re talking Soccer here). And those first Cavemen, startled by the heat of the meteorite, start kicking it around instead of holding it. Thus, the game was born.
Generations later, a group of their descendants are living in the one hospitable portion of the world that still has trees and animals. But Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) is tired of eating the small rabbits that have made up their diet and wants to hunt bigger game. Defying their leader Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall), he tries to find a Mammoth but instead comes across another populace led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). This other tribe has Bronze and is more technologically advanced. They move into the green area and take it over for themselves. But it turns out the Bronze Age tribe also enjoys Football as a large spectacle. Dug realizes his family history involves the game. So even though they don’t know how to play, he challenges the encroachers to a big game for control of the land.
There is a lot of energy and cuteness on display here. As usual, the character designs are spot on. The exaggerated eyes and features of the humans are fun. Gawky body shapes and gross overbites make for a visually funny group. Also, the voice cast, which also includes Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame, is up for the fun. They are all doing their level best to imbue their characters with energy.
However, the issue is, none of it is really all that moving or memorable. Preparing a ragtag team of misfits to play in the Big Game is a plot we’ve seen a million times. There isn’t really a lot of emotion behind their struggle. It’s all very cute, but likely shortly after you leave the theater, you won’t be thinking about it too much. Early Man would make a moderately pleasant baby sitter for young children for 90 minutes while you cook dinner. But this doesn’t have the ingredients to be a classic of any type.
This is very much like dealing with a Pixar movie. Pixar has a track record as a production company that you would be hard pressed to beat. Their success rate at making good to great movies is almost perfect. But when they make an even mediocre movie (I’m looking at you Cars 2), it suffers mainly because it’s being held up against such wonderful previous work.
Same thing here. Compared to the short The Wrong Trousers (that’s the Wallace and Gromit film with the Penguin) and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Early Man comes off as bland. It’s not actively bad or irritating like some kids movies can be. It isn’t cynical or mean. It’s just a bit forgettable. That’s too bad.