In our house, the work of Bristol’s Aardman Animations is considered high art. My kids were raised on the stop-motion masterpiece that is Wallace and Gromit, and from Chicken Run to The Pirates! Band of Misfits, we simply cannot get enough of the studio’s trademark warmth and wit. That’s why it was so shocking when 2018’s Early Man (available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms) didn’t immediately draw us in.
I’m certainly not saying that Early Man isn’t an enjoyable film—with a voice cast that includes everyone from leading men Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston to comedy cut-ups Gina Yashere and Richard Ayoade, it’s already miles ahead of most of the animated competition—only that it wasn’t quite the movie we expected.
Opening on a prehistoric Earth (complete with grainy, grimy visuals), Early Man concerns itself with one of humankind’s greatest discoveries: not fire or the wheel, mind you, but football. From there we fast forward to the cusp of the Stone Age where, as it butts up against the dawn of the oncoming Bronze Age, the story begins to unfold.
Caveman Dug (Redmayne), along with his trusty boar Hognob and the rest of his tribe, lives a more or less idyllic life in a small green veldt that borders the ancient wasteland. This all changes with the arrival of invaders, an army of War Elephants led by Hiddleston’s vaguely Frankish Lord Nooth, who storm the valley and displace its Stone Age denizens.
When accidentally transported to their Bronze Age city—resplendent with modern marvels from copper coinage to sliced bread—Dug comes to realize that only by using the power of footy can he and his hold onto their noble birthright. With the help of Goona (played by the always delightful Maisie Williams), Dug and company challenge their more evolved competition to a pitched battle on the… uh, pitch, which despite its rather textbook conclusion still manages to satisfy.
More The Bad News Bears than The Croods, Early Man lives or dies by its sports clichés, which, I must admit, it pulls off skillfully enough thanks to its charming animation and an equally skilled cast. As an American viewer with native-born kids, there was a bit of a cultural component that needed explaining—most specifically that, well, pretty much everyone else calls soccer “football,” and it’s a very, very big deal—but it’s not like that’s unexpected in an Aardman feature.
With a runtime under an hour and a half, it’s a perfectly timed film that never lingers too long, and, assuming you don’t mind a little sport in your tale of humorous hominids, you and your geeklings will likely find it adequately amusing. Moreover, if you’re interested in the story behind the film, this home media release includes four special featurettes spotlighting director Nick Park, the Aardman workshop, and the creation of the humorous hybrid world of Early Man.
Review materials provided by: Lionsgate