Nick Park can transform lumps of clay and plasticine into pure delight and make it look deceptively easy. With Chicken Run and the Wallace and Gromit series, Park and his cohorts at the Bristol, England-based Aardman studios create stop-motion animated movies that are unapologetically British and all the more charming for it.
This time around Park finds new ways of looking at prehistory with Early Man, which reveals that our ancestors might not have been as primitive as we've thought. The film opens with an amiable caveman named Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) and his pet warthog Hognob (Park) and their tribe of rabbit hunters.
87 Cast: (voices of) Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Miriam Margolyes, Mark Williams, Nick Park, Rob Brydon
Director: Nick Park
Rating: PG, for rude humor and some action.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Because they're the heroes of a Nick Park film, they're instantly likable, but one wonders how they survive because the rodents seems just a little bit smarter than the folks who want to eat them.
The tribe winds up experiencing some of the rabbits' own fears when an armada of gleaming metal creatures chase them from their cave.
It's tempting to wonder if these mechanical beings are time travelers or visitors from another world. Instead, they are from a city where all the residents have mastered the art of making bronze. Stone pillars and spears are no match for bronze weapons.
The leader of the metal menace is the greedy Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston with an amusingly over-the-top French accent). He's as obsessed with bronze as Wakanda is dependent on vibranium. As a result his quest to score more refined metal threaten's Dug's homeland and potentially other places where copper might be found.
Dug follows the invaders back to their city and learns how refining metal elevates human beings to near deities. That said, he also discovers that the people of the city do have a religion that still dominates the globe.
We know it as soccer.
Even though Dug and his people don't know how to play "futbol," he remembers that cave paintings have shown him and others how to play. If they can get good enough and beat Nooth's formidable team Real Bronzio, they might get their land back.
The get some assistance from a young woman in the city named Goona (Maisie Williams), who is eager to play but can't because Real Bronzio doesn't allow girls. As one might expect, they'll soon regret that.
Park's movies take years to make because they have to be shot one frame at a time after the animators move the puppets. They also have a slow, uncluttered feel that makes them stick out in the current marketplace, where animation filmmakers feel hellbent to carpet bomb audiences.
As a result, it's easier to take in some of the more subtle content. Notice some of the signs in the background or that bronze age technology can be just as frustrating as our own. A messenger bird (voiced by Welsh comedian Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan's intrepid companion in The Trip films) garbles messages just as badly as an antiquated phone of the Sprint network.
Park makes fine use of his U.K. voice actors, sometimes casting the same performer in multiple roles. Brydon plays a series of dual characters, and it's not obvious until the final credits.
Even though outhouses weren't invented yet, there is some toilet humor here and there. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to mar the genial tone of the rest of the film. If a few lines of U.K. slang frustrate you, don't worry, the visuals carry the story.
As with all of Nick Park and Aardman's features, there is CGI here and there to create images that are simply too expensive to create any other way. Nonetheless, by stepping backward in filmmaking technology and content, he creates a story that might endure like a cave painting.
MovieStyle on 02/16/2018
Print Headline: Early Man