Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Early Man ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th February, 2018

A8AC253F-61C3-488B-AEE1-C53CF31BE7ACI have long been a fan of Nick Park’s stop motion animated films. I can’t count the times I’ve watched the Wallace and Gromit movies — made all the more special because my late, inimitable friend Peter Sallis voiced the character of Wallace — and I laugh each time. Shaun the Sheep, longer and more ambitious, turned out to be a gem as well, but I worried that as Aardman Animations grew from its modest beginnings to its current global mega-status whether it would be able to maintain the magic. So I went to see Early Man this afternoon with a certain degree of trepidation. It’s all on a much grander scale than its predecessors, with a large cast of “human” figures (albeit Stone Age and a Bronze Age ones). The central character is a goofy but courageous youth, Dug, who takes on the  Bronze usurpers with the aid of his faithful sidekick, a determined and bright, semi-canine wild boar. Surreally, the battle between the two civilisations takes place on a football pitch, which enables Nick Park and his colleagues to spoof the beautiful game, its players and commentators, offering some amusing referencing for dads (and some mums) accompanying their children to see the film. The outcome is inevitable; in true British tradition, the underdog must come out on top. And there is even a romance in the offing for Dug with a Bronze Age girl whose secret dream is to be a soccer star. One result of Aardman’s record of achievement is that a veritable galaxy of stars provide the voices, from Eddie Redmayne as Dug, through Tim Hiddleston as the villain (deploying an outrageously cod French accent) and Miriam Margoyles as the Bronze Queen. Doubtless these big names will help ensure the film’s commercial success, especially in the United States, but it should really be the strength of the characters in Park’s films, with all their petty faults and quirks, that make the movie work. Usually they do, but I am less convinced this time. Though the toothy figures are still visually true to the Aardman brand, the plot and action veer quite a long way towards Disneyland. Early Man is still fun, nonetheless, and kids will laugh as their parents smirk at some of the double entendres and nods to football mania. But it’s not up there with Wallace, Gromit and Shaun, alas.


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