The following is a guest post from Jim Smith.
In childhood, a friend came to school geeking out about what they called “Claymation.” Up to that point, my experience with stop motion animation was limited to the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials that aired, without fail, every year. He told me to watch something, I don’t remember what it was, but was immediately enamored.
The animation was choppy, but it was exactly the sort of dumb fun that was perfect for a young kid. Fast forward a few years, technology improves and Tim Burton Produced The Nightmare Before Christmas and all of a sudden stop motion animation was the subject of serious discussion.
A few weeks ago, all anyone could talk about was Black Panther, and for good reason, but sitting in its shadow was an overlooked gem, released the same week.
Early Man was released February 16th amid the Marvel juggernaut marketing machine. The brainchild of Aardman & Nick Park who have earned 4 Oscars & six BAFTA awards. While their names may not be well-known, their works are: the Wallace & Gromit series, Creature Comforts, and Flushed Away (not stop motion, but a great film nonetheless). The Wrong Trousers has, arguably, the best movie chase scene ever.
In Early Man, Dug and his clan are a group of stone-age hunter gatherers (emphasis on gathering because they aren’t so good at hunting) living an idyllic life in a beautiful valley formed in the impact crater of an asteroid. Despite their apparent inability to hunt small game, Dug has ambitions to of bigger kills and a better life for his tribe; he wants to hunt mammoths.
But Dug and his cohort have other problems. Steampunk, Bronze Age conquerors decide Dug's little valley will make the perfect place to mine. They evict Dug & his intrepid clan, forcing them to eke out a living in the badlands.
Dug and his pet Hognob find their way to the Bronze Age village, a brave new world filled with things like sliced bread and the game to end all games, soccer (football for everyone not in the US).
Dug, not willing to accept the hostile takeover of his home, challenges the championship team to a match with high stakes. Win, and they get their home back. Lose, and they'll be working in the mines for the rest of their lives. Of course, Dug and the clan have never played soccer before, so you can see where this is going.
Early Man is, admittedly, formulaic. A good guy getting bullied by a bad guy. A rag tag team of misfits journey to greatness. An unlikely love interest. The whole nine yards. But there's something endearing about the way Aardman and Park pull it off.
For a typical kids’ movie, Early Man hits all the right marks. If you are dragged to any animated movie this year, pray to the movie gods it's this one. The classic Aardman charm is all over this movie along with Nick Park’s fingerprints. The massage scene with Lord Nooth is one of the funniest scenes in recent memory. Plenty of jokes for the parents and it just oozes British charm.
While Early Man stands up well on its own, when compared to other releases from the same creators, it lacks a lot of the originality that made something like Wallace & Gromit so lovable. The animation is wonderful, the story could use a shot to the arm.
Early Man gets bonus points for stellar performances by Tom Hiddleston as Lord Nooth, and Eddie Redmayne as Dug. Stick around for the credits to see caveman rendering of all the previous Nick Park movies. Despite a story that leaves you wanting, Early Man is filled with soccer jokes, British jokes, great voice acting, and as much Aardman & Nick Park as you can take. If you've got kids or are just a fan of the medium, it's well worth the price of a ticket and a couple hours of your time.