Talk about nostalgia coming back. If like me, you live in the UK than Aardman Studios will be no stranger to you. Although, people who are calling this a comeback for the studio are wrong as the studio has worked on films in the past, but Early Man does mark the return of Aardman’s founder Nick Park back in the director’s helm, after over a decade away from this role. Having the man who brought to us the staple characters Wallace and Gromit must mean that Early Man has something special. Well after seeing my first Aardman film since 2005, Early Man is a reminder of the wit and cheesy humour that Aardman have provided in the past.
First though a bit of history. Since 2005, the competition for dominance in the animation industry expanded in such a way, it seemed to leave Aardman in the dust. However, there are very little animation studios in the world that appreciate the hands-on approach like Aardman does and this approach is evident in Early Man. I’m sure that in the realm of CGI animation lies an incredible number of hours in work put in, but it’s difficult to see that hard work in a film made in a computer program. With Aardman’s use of their unique plasticine stop motion animation. You can see for yourself the work that had been put in. From the models there lies the remnants of fingerprints from sweaty hands, to the individual movement of artificial hair strands between frames, you can feel the physical practical element of this film.
The story is a surprising one if like me, you go into this film not knowing what to expect, and I never expected football to be so important to the story. Yes, you heard me, football (soccer for out American readers) and if you’re into football that you’ll be able to pick up on the many slapstick references the film makes. The story-line seems to be somewhat close to the 1966 World Cup Final with the Aardman touch to it. Even aesthetically, the parallels seem oddly familar to that match and English football in general.
The film itself keeps its funny vibe throughout the film. There are very few film that can pull off the kind of humour Early Man provides and make it funny. I found myself laughing at jokes that would be the kind you’d find in Christmas crackers. It helps that the films set up for this kind of comedy the moment it commences immediately identifying to the audience what kind of film it intends to be.
On to the characters, while admittedly not all the character will be regarded as memorable, the ones that make an impression do just that. Take out lead protagonist Dug (Eddie Redmayne) for instance, I admire the optimism of this character, throughout the film he is the sole character who wants to go on to better things. For instance, the rest of his tribe are fine with being rabbit hunters, but it is he who wants to take on the likes of mammoths. People, especially children, will be able to instantly connect with this character with no effort having to be made.
I’m glad that Aardman have expanded the limits of what they can animate, you have new plasticine creatures like Dug sidekick boar Hognob as well as non-plasticine creatures like dinosaurs. However, I unfortunately have to say that this same expansion hasn’t reached the human characters. They are styled in the same way that made Aardman Studios legendary and I respect that they’ve kept the style, however it would be nicer to see a range of faces. The faces of the characters in Early Man look almost identical to past characters. The characters Aardman have made are very different but I would like to see this difference in their look.
If the story isn’t surprising enough, some of the minor storylines are little farfetched. The writers try to introduce a love interest to Dug in the form of bronze pan saleswoman Goona (Maisie Williams) who aspires to becoming a footballer, however is too weak to even call it a romance as their introduction to each other is very brief and never truly develops as much as we’d hope for.
I know next to nothing about football so maybe the weight of the game in the story just isn’t for me to appreciate enough. What I do appreciate is the effort and the fun vibe that went into making a project like this. If I could go back in time and visit the production of any film, Early Man would be on the list 100%. To witness the process of people coming together finding creative ways of showing every day items and settings a well as coming up with cheesy but charming way stress their creativity would be breathtaking. Having a creative mind and a kid at heart attitude helps your enjoyment of Early Man, but I’m certain even the most serious of audience members would crack a smile in this films run-time.