Early Man is the latest film from Aardman Animation and Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park. Now I’ve never really talked about Aardman Animation in my past reviews, but, I am a fan. I grew up on Wallace and Gromit and Chicken run and I am fan of both films. I’ve also really liked their recent entries. The Pirates and Adventures with Scientists was an excellent film in my opinion and Arthur Christmas is one of my favourite Christmas films. For me, the only weak film in the bunch if Flushed Away, which felt like it was lacking a lot of what usually makes Aardman what they are. Though, to be fair, they were experimenting with new technology at the time.
Early Man, however, promised a very interesting idea and looked like it would be in the normal vein of Aardman Animation. These films are very funny and as a result I find myself really enjoying them. How did Early Man turn out, however?
Early Man tells the story of a Stone Age society, which is home to Dug, (voiced by Eddie Redmayne). His tribe does nothing except hunt rabbits, it’s a content life, but what are you going to do. Despite wanting to hunt bigger animals and thinks the tribe are worth more than that, the chief, (voiced by Timothy Spall) decides they shouldn’t take the risk. It’s all peaceful until one day, a society from the Bronze Age, led by Lord Nooth, (voiced by Tom Hiddleston, doing a very fake French accent), takes the valley for the valuable ore. When Dug travels to their town to get the valley back, he challenges them when he notices that they play a game similar to that of his ancestors, which they call football. The rules are simple, if Dug’s tribe can win the game, if the Stone Age tribe can beat the Bronze Age tribe, they will win the valley back and if they lose, they stay down a mine. They don’t do so well at their training at first, but then they receive back up in the form of training from one of the Bronze Age girls, who desperately wants to play football, called Goona, (voiced by Maisie Williams). (Yes I know what the reference is, it doesn’t get much funnier).
You can really tell that this is an Aardman Animation production, I mean, who else could come up with the plot of the Stone Age versus the Bronze Age in a game of football and it have any possibility of working. Early Man is not about merit, for starters and I know I don’t normally talk about technical department, but once again, the stop motion animation is fantastic as usual. Nick Park really finds a way to take these very homemade like clay pieces and really bring them to life. If there is one thing he has not succeeded at, however, is knowing how to use computer generated effects. The film uses a good healthy mix and the majority of computer generated effects blend well into the stop motion. The green scene effects, however, are another matter. Many of the backgrounds look very unpolished, which shows that Aardman is still having some growing pains with using computer effects. Though, that being said, I have certainly seen worse, though film’s like Kubo and the Two Strings and Para Norman, which both also use a combination of stop motion and computer effects, managed to blend the two better. Second, this film has some very good jokes. As usual, with Aardman Animations there is some good broad humour and there are a few little bits and bobs, including some background jokes as well and the film is excellent at doing physical comedy. Of course, there are some genuinely funny one liners and jokes, the problem though, is that there are quite a few running gags throughout the film that feel rather over played. I suspect many of the jokes might go over the head of an American audience, which will receive the film later this month.
But that would all be fine if I just didn’t think the film was rather average. Yes, I am not joking, this is the most average Aardman film I have seen. I certainly prefer it to Flushed Away, but I didn’t enjoy this film as much as, say, The Pirates and Adventures with Scientists, which was the Aardman film I watched in preparation for this film, along with Curse of the Were Rabbit, which I also really enjoyed, despite the fact that I thought that film exposed a lot of the weaknesses that were placed inherently in Wallace and Gromit when they placed a longer running time.
Early Man’s biggest problem is basically its environment. The setting doesn’t allow for as many possibilities of gags, so as a result, the humour I felt, went a bit more broader and to the nose, no pun intended for the villain design! The villain is a pretty good example, Lord Nooth is probably one of the best parts of the film. This is mainly because Tom Hiddleston delivers a very funny performance and he gets most of the funniest lines. I think he will probably be one of the most memorable part of the film. The rest of the cast, however, are really bland and forgettable. Honestly, I remember much more about the villain than any one else in this film and it’s very clichéd at the end of the day. However, unlike a film like Coco, I noticed it a lot more and as a result, the film feels kind of drawn out. This is an idea that certainly would work, but it feels like it could have been cut down and turned into a forty-five minute to an hour short that you could have shown on the BBC at Christmas, since the majority of it seems like it’s to set up the whole football match, which is where a lot of the gags come from. When the gags hit though, they are really funny. The problem is that I felt most of the gags didn’t hit a good middle ground. There were several jokes just aimed at the parents and several jokes just aimed at the kids and I felt like the film went constantly back and forth between with who it was trying to entertain. Also, some of the gags just aren’t quite broad enough. For example, many of the best jokes in Pirates and Adventures of the Scientist were in the background, we saw pub names and signs. However, the biggest one of these was that the football team from the Bronze Age is called Real Bronzio, which feels really weird because doesn’t quite tie into Real Madrid’s name, could they have called them something like SCC Bronzeanola, to tie into SCC Barcelona, at least they both begin with a B. Or, since you are already aiming this at a British audience, what about West Bronze Albion!! I know I am over explaining a joke and that’s the very definition of what makes a joke not funny, but it’s some of the things like that that I was really noticing throughout the film. Not to mention that the main female lead’s name is a reference to Arsenal supporters, like myself. Something I confess I didn’t actually realise until I looked her name up on IMDB. The one thing I seriously appreciate about this film though is, that none of the Bronze Age team is played by football players, thank god, after David Beckham in King Arthur Legend of the Sword, I don’t want to see another football player trying to act again!!
As I have said, Lord Nooth has all the funniest lines and moments, including one moment where he receives a massage from a Wart Hog, makes sense in context and he gets some great lines. But the fact of the matter is, this film kind of left me feeling cold as a whole because I wished the rest of the film had much more put into it. The whole film feels rather predictable, it’s not much different from other family films and while there were a lot of moments that made me laugh, I didn’t feel like this one made me laugh quite as much.
The cast is also an excellent part of this film. There are several recognisable voices in here. Eddie Redmayne delivers a decent performance and his voice is probably the least recognisable, apart from the possible exception of Tom Hiddleston, and he sheds a lot of his accent in this role, you won’t remember, initially, that this guy played Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts. The rest, though, kind of suffer from the whole, ‘you struggle to see the character, you mostly see the celebrity in the recording booth’. This is especially evident with a lot of the side one note characters, who seem to be mostly played by comedians, which you will instantly recognise, if like me, you spend and inordinately long time watching British panel shows, like, Mock the Week, Would I Lie to You and Eight Out of Ten Cats. Now, granted, Timothy Spall gives a good performance as always and Maisie Williams is funny in her role and at least she is putting on a genuine voice to play the character. Tom Hiddleston’s French accent is just hilarious! Rob Brydon is rather an interesting one, since he is having to play three roles, the problem is, despite the fact that he is trying to put on three accents, he is really one of those actors who can’t stave off his natural accent, so when he is playing both of the football commentators, one of them just sounds like Rob Brydon putting on a Scottish accent, which kind of breaks the immersion. Though I will say he does a good job as the message bird. Gina Yashere is also in a small role, which I found relatively amusing. Richard Ayoade is in a role that should be much funnier than it is, which is not his fault, since his part is not that interestingly written, but it is certainly nowhere near the level of humour he brings to panel shows or his role in the IT Crowd. His cameo in Paddington 2 did a much better job of transferring his style of humour to a family friendly setting. Johnny Vegas also appears in the film as the character Asbo, but unlike Richard Ayoade, who at least gets a gag of being a cowardly character and being embarrassed by his mum, I don’t even know what Johnny Vegas’s character is meant to be, he is not really in the film long enough to sustain much of a presence. But, one of the weird scene stealers, who I seriously forgot was in this film and was a brilliant pleasant surprise is the brilliant Miriam Margolyes and the Queen, who once again, delivers an absolute scene stealing performance. I really hope there is some footage of her in the recording booth because I reckon she screwed up a couple of times in the booth, or went off script and ended up swearing. If that footage exists, I really hope it is a DVD extra, I would buy the DVD just for that!!
I have already talked about the animation and my thoughts on it. The animation is still really good, even now, but I have a problem with the mix of the computer generated effects, which I think don’t blend too well. I will at least say the character designs are pretty dam good. They are all in the vein of Wallace and Gromit designs, which do make you think that this film could take place in the same Universe. They even recycle the rabbit designs that they used in Curse of the Were Rabbit, which I thought were great, since they were some of my favourite parts of that film.
Early Man has a lot of what is typical of an Aardman production and a lot of what Nick Park is. But this time I think that a lot of the magic isn’t quite there. The film is very funny in moments and I would hardly say that I think the film is bad and that I don’t like it as a whole, on the whole I think it is alright. It’s just not quite there, this is something to the lower end of the Aardman films in my opinion. The humour is just not quite all there, it never quite hits the right bounce it needs to and the whole thing feels a little too predictable. If you like Aardman Animations and are a fan of the Wallace and Gromit type films, this will certainly keep you entertained and I have seen a lot worse animated films since I started the Axia Film Society. But I can’t fully recommend this one, it just feels very average at this time. If you are going to see an animated film right now in cinema’s I would recommend seeing Coco over this.
Well, that’s me for this week.
Instead, join me next time where I will be reviewing a gothic horror film based on a supposedly true story, Winchester, The House That Ghosts Built.
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