Hot Take: So, cavemen invented soccer… And that’s an interesting plot for a movie because? Aardman Animations has an impressive resume. Consider this a blemish.
The stop-motion animation experts at Aardman Animations and director Nick Park — the director behind a handful of Wallace & Gromit tales and Chicken Run — decided that a film about cavemen who must win a soccer game (and have never played soccer but realize their ancestors did according to carvings) against the Bronze Age city folk to save their homeland was a good idea. The result is a purposely crude but ineffectively simple story that feels more primitive but not because it is about cavemen. It’s more standard fare with a feel of episodic Saturday morning cartoons and lacks memorable or endearing characters.
Early Man begins in the valley with a small tribe of cavemen hunting rabbits. During the hunt, Dug (Eddie Redmayne) asks Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) why they don’t hunt mammoths since rabbits are so small and mammoths are much larger. During their discussion, a demolition crew led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) arrives and abruptly forces the tribe out of their homeland and into the volcanic badlands. Dug tries to stop them but instead falls in a basket and is transported back to the city where Nooth and his men are from. Dug gets caught up trying to escape and eventually accidentally walks into a role as a goalie on the local soccer team (unbeknownst to the rest of the team and the spectators). Once discovered, Dug challenges Nooth’s championship team to a game. If Dug’s team wins, they get their home in the valley back. If they lose, they will work as slaves in the city’s mines. Nooth gladly accepts and Dug returns to the badlands to tell his tribe of their long shot opportunity of getting their home back.
Straightforward and silly, the rest of the 89 minute film focuses on the valley cavemen learning the game of soccer and the game itself. The only added layer is when Dug and his trusty sidekick Hognob (a pig “voiced” by Nick Park) sneak into the Bronze Age city to steal a soccer ball to train since they lost their only ball. He receives help from Goona (Maisie Williams) who also reveals that girls are not allowed to play soccer although she loves the game and has talent. Gonna joins the team and agrees to coach them convincing them that if they work together they can beat the city team since they display little to no teamwork skills.
Unfortunately, Early Man was mostly off the mark. It fails to deliver any big laughs and only a scattered amount of chuckles. The stop-motion animation while purposely crude is adequate but doesn’t blow you away. Sporadic laughs and decent animation isn’t enough to put this film on a must see list even for the most ardent animation fan and its even unlikely to satisfy a younger audience as it might struggle to hold their attention for the full 89 minutes. The more frantic and fast paced Peter Rabbit has a better shot of holding your kid’s interest unless they are really passionate about soccer and they might get a kick out of that plot device. Otherwise, Early Man is a disposable missed opportunity from an otherwise spot on animation studio.
The stop-motion animation is impressive at times.
Aardman Animations will release a sequel to Shaun the Sheep next year… you can wait.