Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Timothy Spall, Miriam Margolyes
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A winning meld of stop motion animation and classic sports movie, Early Man scores big time.
When it comes to pure Britannia, you can’t go past Aardman. With classic TV titles like Wallace & Gromit and Shaun The Sheep, and top-tier movies including Chicken Run, Flushed Away, Arthur Christmas, and The Pirates, the Bristol-based animation house has become a box office-trouncing world force while never selling out its roots. Leaving the lesson-teaching to their compatriots across the pond in Hollywood, Aardman are all about fun, insouciance, and brilliant stop motion animation, and those qualities are well and truly on display in their latest effort, Early Man. But don’t let the prehistoric trappings fool you – this is first and foremost a film about the glories of football (or soccer as we call it here) made by people who obviously know and love The World Game.
Kicking off as a literal clash of cultures between a simple Stone Age tribe and a far more technologically advanced army from The Bronze Age (don’t worry about the historical accuracies, just go with it), the film quickly morphs into a classic sports movie. Fighting to keep his tribe’s valley home free from annexation, Stone Age dreamer, Dug (charmingly voiced by Eddie Redmayne), gambles it all on a soccer match, pitching his ragtag, big-hearted team against the pompous, tricked out Bronze Age team. From then, it’s on, boots and all, as the football flavoured gags fly hard and fast (there are even two bone-dry and hilarious match commentators with soup-thick Scottish accents) and the cinema’s famous sports movie tropes are revisited with gusto.
With a warm, humble, and inspirational hero in Dug, and a host of entertaining supporting characters (which give the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Timothy Spall and Miriam Margolyes the opportunity to really kick loose), Early Man has a rock-solid base to work outward from, peppering spiky jokes in amongst the sweetness, and never readjusting its humour to be more “accessible” to non-soccer-loving audiences (we’re looking at you, America). Another winner from the Midas-touched Aardman, the beautifully animated Early Man scores points often and with admirable, seeming ease.