Early Man

(SFX Magazine, Future Publishing)

A century ago, some of the first stop-motion cartoons were goofy caveman comedies by Willis O’Brien, who later animated King Kong. Now Britain’s favourite stop-motion colossus, Nick Park, offers a plasticine feature in the same vein. It starts with a few moments of dinosaurs, but has far more jokes about prehistoric football, though Aardman makes them funny even if you don’t give two flints about the ‘beautiful game’.

An eccentric but Aardman-lovable tribe of cavemen live in a verdant forest inside a meteor crater. Their pastoral life of hunting rabbits, badly, is disrupted when a newfangled Bronze Age tribe drive them out to mine ore (and if you’re an Aardman fan, you know the studio can’t resist an “Or what?” quip). Separated from his pals, young Dug (Eddie Redmayne), is carted to the Bronze tribe’s kingdom. Obviously he’s floored by their cutting-edge tech (the wheel!), but he’s heroically determined to get his home back, which means beating the Bronzes at their favourite sport…

It’s Aardman, no doubt of that. You can tell from the cute rabbits, the tombstone teeth, and umpteen other unglamourous touches. It’s also thoroughly British, not just in homemade aesthetics but in a sly morale-sapping plot twist, summing up Blighty’s relationship with football perfectly. There are digs at Peter Jackson (yay, armoured elephants!) and a prehistoric beastie which is, once again, absolute Aardman.

On the other hand, it’s no Wrong Trousers or Were-Rabbit. Dug’s tribe is fun but unmemorable; there are too many montages; the gags are more chuckles than guffaws and one is uncomfortably near to a classic slapstick sequence in The Simpsons. Finally, unbelievably, the Tom Hiddleston-voiced, Eddie Izzard-accented villain is actually quite dull. It’s a perfectly good watch, over and above its nostalgic pleasures, but it doesn’t feel like it’ll be a nostalgic classic itself decades from now.

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