It takes multiple animators to make a stop-motion animated feature and I never tire from seeing the meticulous, highly detailed work, that it takes to make these clay worlds come to life. Early Man is the newest installment from Aardman Animations, one of the few animation studios to make stop-motion films a reality. They have been in direct competition with Laika (the team that made ParaNorman, Coraline, and more) and brought various classics to reality, such as Wallace & Grommet, Shaun the Sheep, and Chicken Run. Right off the bat, I already praise their films, because it is a long commitment to have a finished narrative, but unfortunately, I was a tad underwhelmed with Early Man. The story is about a rag-tag group of cave people, who must try to win a soccer match against the wealthy team of highly skilled players from Bronze Age City. It is all in an effort to claim their land back from the arrogant and evil Lord Nooth. Visually Early Man is a feast for our eyes, but the story boils down to typical cliches of the underdogs working together to defeat the superior athletes, with not enough laughs. Long story short, I was expecting more.      

Early Man

Our hero is Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), along with his trusty warthog Hognob, their activities include hunting for food with the rest of the friendly group. What they pursue is the less than challenging rabbit, but they are such lunkheads it's amazing they have any food to consume at all. But Dug wishes to hunt for a more challenging feast of foods, such as the mammoth. Sadly, the others live in their comfortable ways, never venturing outside the village, until a pear shaped man named Lord Nooth (fantastically voiced by Tom Hiddleston) and his army tear through the village. This forces Dug and crew out into the volcanic wasteland without a place to go. While seeking for answers to who these conquerers are, Dug finds himself in the bronze village and discovers an odd game called football (Soccer for we Americans). Doing all he can to get his home back, Dug challenges their champion team to one match to regain claim on his home.

One would think that with the inventive and imaginative mind of director Nick Park, he and screenwriters Mark Burton and James Higginson would come up with something more substantial than just another David & Goliath story. Early Man is similar to many other films you've seen, such as Little Giants, Space Jam, and The Bad News Bears combined, but this time with fewer laughs. That might be Early Man's biggest sin, that it's just not funny enough. There are a few witty puns here and there, and The Trip to Spain actor Rob Brydon brings plenty of laughs as a message bird from the queen and a pair of commentators of the match, who reminded me of characters like The Muppets Statler & Waldorf. Outside of that, the jokes land like a deflated soccer ball, conjuring up a few “heh” and “ha's” every few minutes.

Of course, Dug can't teach the team on his own, so it takes the highly talented Goona (voiced by Maisie Williams) to come over to the good guys and show them the true skills of the game. Bad practices turn into good practices, the team bonds over their survival from a man-eating mallard duck, and head into the game more confident than before. Dug must overcome his fears that he led the group into a losing battle, but there's never a moment where I thought things would go south. Everything goes exactly as one would expect.

Early Man is a fantastic visual success, where the characters burst with energy, but only in their clay details. Director Nick Park is obviously a pro at making these types of movies, something stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen would be proud of. The soccer stadium has each individual spectator with specific information and that is more than enough reason for you to see it. Just don't expect a deeper story and loads of laughs. The animation is timeless, the rest will go extinct.


Written by: Leo Brady