Stone vs Bronze. A battle for the ages.
There is nothing quite like stop motion animation. It has existed since the dawn of cinema itself and persists even today in a computer dominated field. Compared to other animation forms it has a tactile quality that makes everything so much more present and real, and those studios who know how best to utilise that ability are capable of telling beautiful and unique stories.
One such studio is Bristol-based Aardman Animations, which since the memorable Creature Comforts in 1989 and the unforgettable Wallace and Gromit films has grown to make entertaining and wonderful features like The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! and Chicken Run. Now the latest from the studio and creator Nick Park is Early Man, a kind of Wallace and Gromit meets Bend It Like Beckham for the whole family.
In the distant past a tribe of cave people live in peace in their valley. Outside the valley time has moved on to the age of bronze. When the greedy Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) kicks the tribe out of their home in order to mine the area for metal, young Dug (Eddie Redmayne) is determined to find a way to take back what is rightfully theirs. An opportunity presents itself in challenging Nooth’s chosen champions at that most sacred of competitions: a football match.
There is a lot to like here. While the plot is a fairly simple “let’s save the [BLANK]” sporting underdog story with some fun historical window-dressing – at least in the same way that The Flintstones is historical anyway – it is endlessly charming with a constant stream of steady, if not side-splitting, chortles and a nice little message of working together and believing in yourself. The voice cast are all clearly having a lot of fun too, particularly Hiddleston who appears to be channelling his inner Officer Crabtree from ‘Allo ‘Allo.
It is also beautifully inventive from a craft standpoint, maintaining the high standard of quality that Aardman has always shown. One of the best things about stop motion is being able to feel the passion and hard work that went into every frame. This is especially true when, like here, you can even see the fingerprints of the animators on the models.
Early Man is a very enjoyable watch, and there are even a few little fun references to special effects master Ray Harryhausen. Not quite as clever or satisfying as some of its Aardman feature film predecessors, but this is still a very fun ride and full of earnest goodness at its heart. It’s certainly smarter than 80% of children’s movies out there these days.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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