Directed by Nick Park
Screenplay by Mark Burton and James Higginson
Story by Mark Burton and Nick Park
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall
One of my favorite lines in a film has to be when William Shatner quips to someone “I guess irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.” It isn’t just that the line is hilarious. There is a lot of truth behind the comment. As I was thinking about Nick Park’s latest stop-motion animated film “Early Man” arriving in theaters tomorrow, the quote comes to mind.
Mr. Park along with his talented team of story tellers at Aardman has been delivering animated delights for many years. What started with “Wallace and Gromit” on the BBC transitioned into a chicken farm teeming with life to a sheep who doesn’t speak, but motions exceptionally well. Why, then, is a tribe of cavemen in the Stone Age funny let alone remotely appealing?
In part, it’s the dry, droll, ironic humor that Mr. Park and Mark Burton infused into their story, with the screenplay written by Mr. Burton and James Higginson. The humor is visually carried by the animation, but the voice cast really drive it home. In the Stone Age, the Earth is still cooling; volcanoes burp and spew lava. A valley, created by a meteorite impact is home to a caveman tribe. Led by Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall), his tribe hunt rabbits. The most animated of his tribe is Dug (Eddie Redmayne). One night, their home is invaded by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), whence it is declared that the Stone Age has ended and the Bronze Age has begun. In a signature Aaardman moment, Dug is whisked away to the big city where he learns the truth about the caveman’s origins.
I am a huge fan of Aardman films. Their stories are short and to the point. They don’t waste a single animated cell while the characters are down to earth. It’s the theme of friendship, family and, ultimately trust that makes their stories so appealing. The animation is so pleasing to the eye as well. And, that’s where I struggled with “Early Man.” Much like other established content companies, Aardman has a formula that works for them. And I will always line up to see the animation. At some point though, risks must be taken. In this film, the risk is in Maisie Williams’ Goona, someone who Dug befriends during the course of the story. It was a nice touch to see Goona represent herself so strongly as a character.
Mr. Redmayne’s voice perfectly captured Dug’s innocence and his inquisitiveness. He played meek against Goona, but was able to defend his honor against Lord Nooth. Mr. Hiddleston was an excellent foil because he is the anti-hero; he sees no wrong in his antics, an irony that is not lost on this reviewer. Mr. Spall is subdued in this film, but that serves a purpose, which I think teaches an important lesson for younger children. The real MVP of the film is Hognob, Dug’s pet wild boar, played by Nick Park. I’ll let you see the movie to understand why.
Despite feeling like Aardman is stuck in their mold, they surprised me with characters and a story that reflect our own real-world situations. It might sound cliché, but the Geico insurance tagline “So easy, a caveman can do it” kept running through my head as the story unfolded. ABC tried to capitalize on this many years ago. There is irony in the fact that Aardman succeeded where ABC TV failed. But it’s probably not as funny as I think it is.
3 out of 4 stars