It is the dawn of man and dinosaurs still roam the earth. But an asteroid will change the world in two major ways. First, it brings about the end of the reign of dinosaurs as the dominant species on the planet. And second, it introduces mankind to the game of soccer! Progress marches on. When a peaceful stone age village is forced from their land by bronze-age interlopers, the cavemen challenge their fitter brethren to the beautiful game in a bid for survival.

Aardman has a unique flair for storytelling so, despite being an American with only limited knowledge and even less love for the game of soccer, I went into Early Man with high expectations. And unfortunately I was left disappointed. The film is somewhat charming and a bit of fun, but ultimately lacks any heft and feels almost specifically geared to children. The writers rarely followup on their own plot and seem happy enough to move from point A in the story to point B without worrying about what happened before or what is coming next. For example (and to get mildly spoiler-y), in a plot seen in most other David-vs-Goliath movies the underdogs are told they can win by using the weaknesses of their opponents against them. We’re then shown some of these weaknesses. When we finally get to the match, these weaknesses are forgotten! Several times in the film it feels as if we’re seeing something that will pay off later, then never does. Early Man does have some good humor, but it seems as if jokes replace plotting too often. This is not the story of some cavemen challenging their bronze-age betters to a game of soccer. This is a funny film about some cavemen challenging their bronze-age betters to a game of soccer. That may be a subtle difference in phrasing, but it’s the difference between a good film that’s funny, and a funny film that’s so-so.

The animation is vintage Aardman — fun and more smooth than stop-motion clay should possibly be! The human and animal figures are done in the usual company style, so nothing groundbreaking in the design there. But the settings are unique and give the animators some room to stretch.

The score by Harry Gregson-Williams and Tom Howe is very hit-or-miss: sometimes a great compliment to the on-screen action and other times not much better than just keeping quiet. Apparently there was also some pop songs in the film as well, but to be very honest I had completely forgotten them by the time I left the theatre and only remembered when looking at the soundtrack listings while writing this review. I think that probably speaks for itself!

The voice acting is a real highlight in the movie. I’m usually not a fan of big stars coming in to do animation when there are so many talented animation voice actors out there not getting a shot at these big roles. But Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, and Maisie Williams really went above and beyond what most celebrities usually do for animated fare. All three have created extremely fun characters while bing unrecognizable in their roles.

Early Man is not a bad movie, but it left a lot of potential untapped. Younger kids will love it and everyone else will at least get a few laughs out of it. But it could have been more. Aardman is still on top of their game technically speaking. Hopefully the issues here are an anomaly and we’ll see more evolved storytelling in their next generation of films.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Early Man
Lionsgate, Aardman
February 16, 2018
89 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Nick Park