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Review: Aardman’s pun-filled caveman comedy Early Man

PUBLISHED: 17:14 26 January 2018

Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) in Aardman pun-filled caveman comedy Early Man. Photo: Studiocanal/BFI/Chris Johnson

Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) in Aardman pun-filled caveman comedy Early Man. Photo: Studiocanal/BFI/Chris Johnson

Studiocanal/BFI/Chris Johnson

Wallace and Gromit maker Nick Park’s latest stop-motion film, a comedy of errors that traces the history of football to our club-wielding prehistoric ancestors, has charm but is too safe.

Chief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall), Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and Hobnob (Nick Park) in Early Man. Photo: Studiocanal/BFI/Chris JohnsonChief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall), Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and Hobnob (Nick Park) in Early Man. Photo: Studiocanal/BFI/Chris Johnson

Early Man (PG)

***

The tragedy of Aardman’s attempts to turn their small screen National Treasure status into big screen global dominance is that they work in the one area of cinema where excellence dominates. If they specialised in rom-coms, or erotic thrillers, or cop dramas they’d have a clear path to pre-eminence, but nowadays even the worst cartoons are OK.

In the three decades since Wallace and Gromit blasted off to a moon made entirely of cheese, the Bristol-based studio have charmed us with a menagerie of stop-motion creations.

But after the early success of Chicken Run, their story has been that of a string of good-but-not-quite-enough efforts. We Brits still love them, but the rest of the world is skittish.

Hobnob (voiced by Nick Park) and Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) in Early Man. Photo: Studiocanal/BFI/Chris JohnsonHobnob (voiced by Nick Park) and Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) in Early Man. Photo: Studiocanal/BFI/Chris Johnson

The Aardman response here seems to be, sod ‘em.

Early Man turns back the clock thousands of years for a knockabout, pun-filled comedy about tribes of cavemen playing football.

The beautiful game turns exceedingly ugly in a knockabout script co-written by Mark Burton and James Higginson, that centres on a contest between a good-natured but stupid group of Stone Age primitives (representing the British) and a group of self regarding, preening, arrogant Bronze Age types (foreigners) who consider themselves to be the masters of the game that we invented.

A prologue set in the Neo-Pleistocene era heralds the extinction of quarrelsome dinosaurs and primitive humans in the impact blast from a falling flame-licked meteor.

New life sprouts from the scorched earth, creating a valley of lush vegetation where Chief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall).

Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and Hobnob (Nick Park) in Early Man. Photo: Studiocanal/BFI/Chris JohnsonDug (Eddie Redmayne) and Hobnob (Nick Park) in Early Man. Photo: Studiocanal/BFI/Chris Johnson

The prehistoric posse includes Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his porcine pet Hognob, Asbo (Johnny Vegas), Gravelle (Gina Yashere), Magma (Selina Griffiths), Treebor (Richard Ayoade), Barry (Mark Williams) and his inanimate best friend Mr Rock.

Greedy Bronze Age tyrant Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) gatecrashes this idyll with heavily armoured troops.

Make your own Early Man character in Aardman video tutorial with Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston and Maisie Williams

Nick Park’s film is 89 minutes of fun and charm, but traditional and safe and seems to be aimed at nobody residing beyond the waters that border these isles, unless they are ex-pats.

The level of the stop-motion animation, and the character design, doesn’t seem to have evolveded that much since the early days of Wallace and Gromit and the Heat Electric adverts.

Like an England World Cup it employs a lot of hard work in pursuit of a solid but uninspring vision that is unlikely to progress much beyond the group stages.

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