If you have ever wondered what Wallace & Gromit’s ancestors would have looked like then the latest feature from the much loved Aardman Animation Studio will have you catered for. Set on prehistoric earth, somewhere near Manchester, Early Man follows a rabbit hunting tribe and its inquisitive and likable member Dug (Eddie Redmayne). They live in a green and luscious crater on what is an otherwise barren planet.
One day, their idyllic lives are ruined as the more developed Bronze Age tribe, led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), claim their home and banish them to the badlands. By accident Dug ends up in one of their carts and wakes up within the Bronze Age City. Unable to hide from the guards, he is brought in front of Lord Nooth and the crowd of his large football stadium. Believing that his ancestors too played football, Dug agrees for his tribe to play Real Bronzio in an attempt to win back his home.
Like anything from Nick Park and Aardman Animations, Early Man is full of lovable characters and an undeniable charm that will be familiar from Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and Chicken Run. Park has created many memorable characters in the past, and those on display here could rival many of them. It is easy to enjoy their company and there is plenty of slapstick and offbeat humour to amuse viewers from all age groups. This is a film that can be deceptively funny, and made me laugh more than any of Park’s previous work.
Aardman’s films have always had a reassuring, almost amateurish quality, and Early Man manages to maintain this even though it is conceived on a grander and more expansive scale. Throughout the film the animation is brilliant, combining the intimacy of handcrafted clay figures with the expansiveness of both a packed Premier League style football stadium and the lifeless badlands. There is something undeniably fitting about telling a story set in prehistory with clay.
It is disappointing then that Early Man has such an unimaginative and obvious plot. From the moment that the match between the cavemen and Real Bronzio is set up, it is clear that the story is only going in one direction. It might be fun along the way but the ending and final scenes are neither narratively or emotionally satisfying. When the plot unravels with so few surprises, it is hard to remain invested in the story. Nick Park’s previous projects have been full of inventive storytelling and I wish the same could be said of his latest film.
Early Man contains Aardman Animations’ most accomplished and expansive visuals but also their simplest and most predictable plot. Yet despite the underwhelming narrative, the charming characters and skilful animation make the film fun and enjoyable to watch. In the past Nick Park has revisited the same characters many times, and I would like him to return to Dug and his tribe again, to see if they embark on some more interesting adventures second time round.