Dug and his stone-age tribe of rabbit hunters live happily in a densely wooded valley. However, when his tribe are evicted from the valley by a Bronze Age tribe lead by Lord Nooth, Dug must convince his tribe to play and win a game of football against the Metallic Invaders to get their valley back.
The story of Early Man is your standard underdog sports movie; we have seen it a million times before all its conventions and its cliches. However Early Man does not challenge or change these at all, unlike their vegetarian horror film Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit. Instead what we get is a tired plot without any stakes because we know that the tribe is going to win. We have all the standard beats; the training montage, the team is doing well, but the bad guy undermines the hero’s self-esteem nearly throwing the match, until the inevitable victory. Nothing is out of place; you could watch it with your eyes and ears closed.
This wouldn’t be so bad if there were some interesting characters or jokes, but sadly Early Man lacks both. Our main hero, Dug, played by personality vacuum Eddie Redmayne, has no defining characteristic or motivation outside the simple, good-natured hero who must save their tribe. The same can be said of the other tribe members, though they just try to provide flat visual humour, the best one of which involved a duck and the art perspective, which still didn’t coax a laugh out of me. The villain, Lord Nooth, played by Tom Hiddlestone, is fine, though he did feel like a cardboard cut out of a children’s television bad guy with Hiddleston doing a dodgy accent. Finally, Maisie Williams plays Goona, a Bronze Age vendor who wants to play football, so switches sides to play for the caveman. She also does a weird accent; I think they are supposed to be French? But apart from that, I couldn’t tell you anything about her. Because she, Nooth Dug and the rest of the cast aren’t characters, they are puppets that are animated to move the dull plot along. Gone is the spark of Wallace and Gromit, of The Pirates!, of Chicken Run, the thumb print is still there but the life is not. The only remnant of the spark is in a cameo by Rob Bryden who provides the voice of a messenger bird stealing every scene he is in and reminding us of what Aardman can be.
I hate to feel like a parent of a naughty child, but I am incredibly disappointed in Early Man. Aardman have proven that they can do better, but alas here they dropped the ball, turning in a bland forgetable sports film, starring lumps of plasticine, not characters at all.
You can watch Early Man in cinemas now