Early Man

Loveable as ever, if not quite as genius as before, Aardman’s latest stop motion claymation is about a caveman football team taking on the sophisticated giants of the Bronze Age, Real Bronze.

As such, it can lay claim to having the best animated football match since Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Cross that with Escape to Victory, The Mean Machine and A Million Years BC, and you’re pretty close.

It posits that the original cavemen invented football – something to do with passing a hot meteorite around –  and now their ancestors have to rediscover their touch with the ball after figuring out just what’s going on in the cave paintings.

Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his knuckle-scraping, rabbit-hunting crew are trained into some kind of shape by game girl Goona (Maisie Williams). The prize? A return to their homeland crater, currently being exploited by the Bronze Agers for mining – for some reason, the Bronze Agers are French, sort of, at least as voiced by Tom Hiddleston, playing it like the policeman from ‘Allo ‘Allo. 

Nick Park, who grunts the sounds of comedy side pig HogNob, mines the cliches of underdog (under hog?) sports movies for laughs, including some commentators both called Brian, both voiced by Rob Brydon.

But there aren’t quite as many laughs as you’d like, although I like the idea of the mystery of Stonehenge being simply some goal posts. Simple, when you think about it.

I’ve seen this mentioned as a Brexit movie, and it’s true there’s a kind of plucky Englishness versus the dastardly Foreigners (cheating divers the lot of ‘em) element that feels a bit conflicted and awkward rather than thought-through.

The levels of invention don’t seem quite as high as they did in Pirates! or the brilliant silent slapstick of Shaun the Sheep, but it’s bright and it’s always a source of amazement to me that people bother working this way and I love how it’s so much more tactile, human and appealing than the shiny CGI of Pixar. Any gripes feel a bit mean-spirited: younger kids will definitely love it and it’s still a quite remarkable effort, Brian.

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