A fun caveman tale from ‘Wallace and Gromit’ creators

'Early Man' is a well-crafted and enjoyable animated film
“Early Man” is set at the exact moment the Stone and Bronze Ages collide.
“Early Man” is set at the exact moment the Stone and Bronze Ages collide.

Well, they can’t all be “Shaun the Sheep Movie.” Or “Chicken Run.” Or “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” Or Wallace and Gromit, or … well, you get my drift. Most of the movies from the British stop-motion wizards at Aardman Animations are pure delight, full of endlessly replayable moments and the kind of enchanting silliness that seems to transport you, however briefly, to a better world. 

“Early Man,” their latest effort, is merely good, which is to say that it’s well-crafted and enjoyable. You’ll laugh, more than once, but you might not remember why the next day.

“Early Man” begins, as the screen tells us, in the “neo-Pleistocene Age, near Manchester, around lunchtime,” but quickly cartwheels forward into the Bronze Age. Our hero is Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), a caveman living in a quiet valley who seeks adventure; our villain is Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston, having fun with a slithery French accent), whose army invades the valley in search of valuable bronze. 

How to settle this standoff? A football game! (U.S. translation: soccer.)

None of this makes any sense, but it needn’t; the story moves along quickly and much of the fun is in the tiny details along the way. A bustling marketplace features stalls with names like Olaf’s Pelts for Celts and Jurassic Pork; a caveman drawing brings new meaning to the phrase “after many, many moons”; a rabbit experiences joy upon finding, randomly, a tossed salad. And Dug’s wordless pet Hognob has that marvelous Aardman way of hilariously conveying nuances of expression — confusion, dismay, embarrassment — through minuscule adjustments of his clay-sculpted face.

So why is “Early Man” ultimately not-quite-transporting? 

Maybe it’s the monotony of much of its color palette, or the way many of the characters seem not quite distinctive. 

Or maybe it’s just that we’ve been spoiled by too many great Aardman films. You can’t strike gold — or bronze — every time.

‘Early Man’

Directed by: Nick Park
With the voices of: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Timothy Spall, Maisie Williams, Rob Brydon.
Rated: PG  
Grade: B-
Running time: 89 minutes.

Categories: Entertainment


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