Aardman has been a household name in my world ever since WALLACE AND GROMIT delighted me with their love of cheese and trousers. One of my son’s first words was “sheep” (though it sounded more like a certain four-letter word) because of SHAUN, and we have since nearly worn out our copies of CHICKEN RUN and PIRATES because of our shared love of the stop motion masters. Needless to say, we were pretty dang excited to learn that the famed animation house was releasing a new feature, EARLY MAN. While I can’t say that Aardman is breaking the mold with their latest effort, that’s just fine with me since I happen to adore their clever brand of heartwarming humor and wit.
EARLY MAN begins during the dawn of humankind when the world is still a savage and brutal hellscape of fire and fury. When a great meteor shakes the earth to its core, however, this curious creation tale shifts from one about its inhabitants to another origin story- a far fetched one about the world’s most prolific sport, football (soccer for us ‘Mericans). When the Neanderthals encounter the glowing orb from the sky, naturally they began kicking the thing around hence inventing a favorite pastime for ages to come. Flash forward several millennia later where a primitive tribe still thrives in the jungle that proliferated in the meteor crater. Soon, however, an invasion of “modern” Bronze Age miners threatens their happy hunter/gatherer existence. In a fun twist of fate, the tribesman- headed by their unwitting leader Dug- are challenged to defend their land by invoking their ancestors and their long-forgotten past time by playing the modern men in a match of football.
Like most Aardman films, the silly factor is definitely through the roof with EARLY MAN. The juxtaposition of the primitive humans vs their contemporary counterparts provides endless gags, and, in usual Aardman style, even the bad guys are somewhat lovable and unintentionally hilarious. Though the story certainly takes much liberty with historical timelines, a cinematic universe where two eras of mankind duke it out on the football pitch ensures that any semblance of authenticity is forgone in favor of simple fantasy. Complete with a classic “sports training montage” EARLY MAN also proves itself as a legit- though a bit preposterous- sport film.
As the voice of Dug, Eddie Redmayne sweetly captures the rousing spirit of the unlikely hero. A amazing supporting cast including Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, as well as Richard Ayoade help round out a rollicking ensemble of characters, however it’s Tom Hiddleston’s evil Lord Nooth that brings a majority of the laughs as the scheming royal out to displace his unsophisticated foes. It’s amazing to me that an actor can exude such incredible charisma, even when he doesn’t even appear onscreen.
All in all, EARLY MAN is a total win. It doesn’t veer far from the usual Aardman formula, and that is totally ok with me. As I mentioned earlier, I have come to adore their outlandish brand of humor and EARLY MAN maintains that somewhat irreverent spirit with a wholly original sport storyline. The film is so entertaining, in fact, that one can easily forget the astronomical amount of hours spent in producing a feature length stop motion film. Though the movie features the same buck-toothed, googly eyed aesthetic of its claymation predecessors, the level of detail and innovation is an astonishing accomplishment all wrapped up in a kid friendly shell.
Whether you are already a fan of these filmmakers or not, I cannot recommend EARLY MAN enough for cinephiles of all ages. EARLY MAN opens in this Friday at a theater near you, so go check it out!
Until next time,
aka Annette Kellerman