Early Man

EARLY MAN,  UK, 2018. Voices of: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Mark Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Rob Brydon, Nick Park, Johnny Vegas. Directed by Nick Park. 89 minutes. Rated PG (Mild coarse language).

Audiences may not know the name, Aardman Studios. But they recognise the animated characters in their films, especially Wallace and Gromit. Over the decades, director, Nick Park, has provided humorous entertainment for audiences worldwide.

Early Man is the latest film from Aardman. It is amusing – but rather slight in scope than a number of the previous films.

And, there is the question of the title and exclusive language, Early Man. And that is what it seems like for the first part of the film. A mother does appear amongst all the cavemen – but soon, there are movements towards gender equality as a young girl, skilled in sport, comes to join the community. And, in the final confrontation in an arena, the ruler is exposed as something of a booby and avaricious while his queen takes command. Early Man and Early Woman.

Actually, the film opens in the Neo-Pleistocene age, rugged to rains, cavemen fighting each other, prehistoric animals fighting each other. But, down from the clouds comes a meteor destroying the landscapes – but leaving a fiery box which burns the cavemen’s fingers and feet as they touch it, causing them to pass it, kick it around. Perhaps it is an open question but it may be that the origins of football/soccer are prehistoric. This theory is reinforced by the caption that the action in this very ancient world takes place “near Manchester” and “around lunchtime”.

These original football players bequeath their memories to cave art.

Then moving forward a couple of millennia and Ages, the film takes us to the Stone Age. The terrain this time is rather lush. The Stone Age characters are what we might imagine (perhaps thanks to the Flintstones), they are certainly Aardman characters with their protruding teeth and voices from top British actors, with Timothy Spall as the Chief, Eddie Redmayne as the hero, Dug, and the young girl, Goona, who proves herself an ace at soccer, Maisie Williams.

Part of the activities in the Stone Age is hunting – but, as in the previous Aardman film, there is a rabbit, not a Were-Rabbit but are wary rabbit who is able to outwit the hunters (and who actually has the last laugh of the film).

But, armoured warriors from the Bronze Age invade the cavemen, rounding them up, threatening them with work in the mines. However, these Bronze Age invaders sound as if they come from the continent (even though the Lord is voiced by Tom Hiddleston and his queen, rather like Edith Evans in The Importance of Being Earnest, is voiced by Miriam Margolyes).

And these continental fops, exceedingly vain, are champion footballer’s. The plan is made that they should play the cavemen, with cavemen to lose and being sentenced to all work in the mines. The Lord is persuaded that this match would be worthwhile because he sees all the coins coming in as revenue. Dug is enthusiastic, tries to train his fellows – leading to a lot of bumbling comedy. But, Goona comes to the rescue.

Just when the depressed Dug is about to forfeit the match, the team all arrives on a huge flying duck/goose. The continental Bronzes are a bit shocked when the visitors score. While the match is enjoyable to watch, the parallels with contemporary football matches in England are very amusing, not only a score board, but an hourglass for the timekeeping, a replay courtesy of puppet figures and two commentators in a box, one English, one Scot, both voiced amusingly with jokes and puns by Rob Brydon.

We can guess the result of the match, the final tensions, the victory, the expose of the Lord, the taking command by the Queen and a happy ending prior to the advance of the next prehistoric Age.

(Nick Park voices, a character called Hobnog, a pig who thinks he is a dog and wants to play football! And Park also reminds audiences that the screenplay was in preparation long before Brexit nationalism and voting!)

Studiocanal                                Released  March 29th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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