Director Nick Park
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams
Creators of Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep as well of a slew of other loved and awarded films and shows, Aardman Animation has certainly established a reputation in the 40 + years since its founding. Their latest, Early Man, sees director Nick Park (Chicken Run) once again bring that brand of idiosyncratic clay animation to the big screen.
When the home of Dug’s (Eddie Redmayne) pre-historic tribe is invaded by a Bronze Age army in search of minerals, Dug (and his faithful animal sidekick Hognob) are forced to travel to Lord Nooth’s (Tom Hiddleston) city in an attempt to win their valley back. What Dug finds is a place unlike anything he has every seen, and a game that could be his tribe’s chance to win back what was their’s.
Early Man is a classic Aardman Animation comedy with both the distinctive quirkiness and jaw-dropping animation you would expect from the studio. The use of some of the largest sets that Aardman have ever built allows not only their usual sense of detail to show, but also gives them a grand scale upon which they can stage the action. It allows you to see the loving care of the animation; the colourful friendly designs of the characters as they are painstakingly brought to life. Heck you can even see the fingerprints of the animators on these living puppets, as director Nick Park leans into the distinctive aesthetic that characterises the studio’s claymation. This is not a coldly clinical production, but rather a warm, living thing filled with its own charm and detail. All of which comes together in the end sequence to produce a match unlike any other, that perfect sporting moment pitting the underdogs against the more experienced team.
Redmayne steps outside of his usual casting to voice the lovable loser Dug. He brings a charm and comedy to the role. Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) is on more familiar turf, as the tom-boyish and extremely competent Goona, as her character strives to break into a male dominated world (thankfully this time with a football, rather than the various sharp implements used by Ayra Stark). Hiddleston gives a unique vocal performance as the duplicitous Lord Nooth that borders on odd, but he just about manages to sell it. Finally, as often is the case with Aardman, the rest of the vocal cast is rounded out with a rather impressive collection of jobbing British actors and comedians (Rob Brydon, Richard Ayoade, Johnny Vegas, Timothy Spall, Miriam Margolyes), creating a rich tapestry of minor characters.
Early Man may not quite be up there at the pinnacle of the studio’s work, but it’s entertaining and magical in its creation of world and characters. That magic alone is enough to make up for any faults.