Evolutionists would have a field day with “Early Man” if it was a documentary. They’d keep their kids away from it, they’d try to get it banned. I mean, for cryin’ out loud, in its first Stone Age sequence, set “somewhere near Manchester, England,” just before a meteor comes crashing down on the planet, it shows cavemen and cavewomen right alongside dinosaurs. “Heresy!” they’d scream. “They got it all wrong!”
Fortunately, it’s not a documentary, it’s an animated feature, and a comedy, to boot. Even more fortunate, it comes from Aardman Animation, the British studio that’s given us, among many other treats, “Wallace & Gromit” and “Chicken Run.” Like those characters and that film, “Early Man” comes courtesy of the great stop-motion animator-director Nick Park, who once again, this time working with the writers Mark Burton and James Higginson, fills the screen with oddball characters, weird situations, sight gags galore, and the old-fashioned art of one-frame-at-a-time stop-motion (with a few assists from CG) in all of its glory.
The first thing the film touches upon is devastation. That meteor wipes out the dinosaurs, but leaves at least some humans intact, and some of those humans, who converse via grunts and facial expressions, discover something akin to the world’s first soccer ball.
Note: This is a British film, so from here on, the game will be referred to as football.
A long time goes by, the dinosaurs are forgotten, and a small tribe of people are living in the lush valley that sprouted out of the meteor crater. And they’re speaking, not grunting! That slapstick is on full display as the tribe, under the guidance of Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) does its ineffective best to feed themselves by trying to catch rabbits — something they’re not very good at. The most forward-thinking member, Dug (Eddie Redmayne), suggests that they start going after wooly mammoths, but these goofily inept folks would rather be gatherers than hunter-gatherers.
When they’re attacked by a marauding army from another tribe, they opt to run away. But do they really want to leave their forest and try for survival in the unknown Badlands, while the attackers, under the rule of Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston, speaking in a ridiculous and hilarious French accent) take over their forest and begin mining it?
Circumstances lead Dug, in disguise, to Bronze Age City, a much more civilized place (though that word is used loosely here) where, in the background, along a main street, there’s a “Jurassic Pork” stand. But it’s also a city where football is an established and revered game, albeit one that Dug and his friends have never heard of. The plot eventually brings in Dug’s pet boar, Hognob (“voiced” by Nick Park), forces Dug — when he’s discovered to be an outsider — to set up a football match between the city’s championship team and his own wimpy tribe, and introduces Goona (Maisie Williams), who would do anything to play football, but girls aren’t allowed on the Sacred Turf.
Lest you think, with that last part, that this is all going to turn into a message movie about girl power, just know that there’s also — SPOILER ALERT — the presence of a giant, man-eating duck. But, yes, within all the silliness and sweetness and harmless violence, this is, indeed, a kid’s film with a message. It suggests that teamwork, of all sorts, is important, and shows why. But then, because this is from Aardman, it gets right back to all of that slapstick for the younger viewers, and clever one-liners and bad puns for the adults in the audience. And it gives a whole new meaning to being “suspended for the season.”
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Mark Burton and James Higginson; directed by Nick Park
With voices of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall