British filmmaker Nick Park (“Chicken Run”) gives us a family-friendly look at “Early Man” and the fiery beginnings of soccer.
This is a good-hearted stop-motion-animated film which, even though is isn’t as strong as his “Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” is well worth seeing with your family and/or the Anglophile-film fans and soccer aficionados in your life.
We first see the demise of the dinosaurs. And then we see a tribe of Neanderthal hunters, including Dug (the voice of Eddie Redmayne), a well-meaning youth who encourages the tribal chief (Timothy Spall) to hunt something bigger than rabbits – say, mammoths – by using a team approach.
But then the Stone Age people are invaded by an army from the Bronze Age whose leader Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) wants to search for precious metals on the Stone Age tribe’s land.
But Dug, accompanied by his pet wild boar Hognob (the voice of Park) has an idea: he challenges the Bronze Age soccer team to a match. If the Stone Age team loses, they’ll be dispatched to work in the mines. If they win, they get their land back. The problem is, the Stone Age people don’t know anything about soccer except for the drawings left behind by their ancestors.
In the meantime, Goona (Maisie Williams) comes along. She can’t play on the Bronze team, because they don’t allow women. But the Stone Age folks welcome her.
I’m a longtime Park fan, so I was tickled to see this solid film. I love the look of the characters, with their grotesque teeth and wild hair. The differences between the way the Stone Age folks and the Bronze Age folks are built is notable, but they all share goofy physical qualities that make them quite endearing.
For kids, this has a nice message about never giving up and working as a team, although it’s never preachy. Adults will get a kick out of it, too. My favorite parts were the “instant replays,” created with stick puppets, during the soccer match, and the appearance of a “message bird” as a part of prehistoric technology.
The painstaking attention to detail shows in every frame. Because of his approach, Park’s whimsical, funny movies have an old-school feel, but they’re also endearing to contemporary audiences.
It’s both clever and silly simultaneously, with monstrous ducks, wily rabbits and snooty royalty.
It doesn’t have a mean bone – or should I say fossil? – in its body, and it will give you some chuckles, particularly if you’re already familiar with Park’s other work. It’s well worth a trip back in time.