Director: Nick Park
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, Tom Hiddleston, Richard Ayoade, Miriam Margoyles
Running Time: 85 minutes
Release Date: January 26
Director Nick Park achieves an unexpected feat in his latest feature: creating a football match that I actually care about the outcome of (an achievement not accomplished since 2006’s She’s The Man.) Early Man is the latest collaboration between Aardman Animations and creator of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, and tells the tale of a football match between cave people from the Stone Age and members of the Bronze Age for the control of the cave people’s valley.
Eddie Redmayne voices the endearingly optimistic Dug, a caveman who dreams of hunting mammoths in a tribe that hunts only rabbits. When Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), a ruler from the Bronze Age, seizes their valley to mine for more metal, Dug makes a bet: if he and his tribe can beat the Champions at football they will get their valley back. If not, they forfeit the valley and go to work in the mines.
What follows is a charming, if predictable, underdog story. Maisie Williams voices Goona, a Bronze Age girl who dreams of being a football star even though women are banned from playing. Goona joins forces with the tribe, who are refreshingly and encouragingly unquestioning of a girl taking charge, to train for the big game. It is an adequately heart-warming tale, a positive depiction of teamwork, friendship and following your dreams. It is not a film that stays with you, but it is enjoyable and will appeal to both children and adults alike, particularly fans of Park’s previous endeavours.
The humour in Early Man is consistent, with jokes at all levels for all ages to enjoy – albeit some are, perhaps, particularly geared toward those with an understanding of football. The characters are well-voiced, though the supporting tribespeople are not overly developed. The stop motion animation is beautifully-rendered, and the attention to detail in the background is impressive. Dug’s sidekick Hognob is a delightful highlight. There is also an interesting underlying tone of disapproval surrounding the money-focused football system, with the narrative emphasising the importance of passion over profit with regard to the ‘beautiful game’.
Overall, Early Man is a solid film. It’s enjoyable, has cross-generational appeal and a sweet moral about sportsmanship and friendship at its heart. It is a worthy pick for a rainy day trip to the cinema.