If there’s one thing you can count on Aardman for, it’s originality.
One of the greatest things about animation is that it stretches the possibilities of cinematic storytelling, essentially creating an endless potential for imaginative output. Animation can bring toys and Legos to life, it can transport us to fantastical realms and it allows filmmakers to block and compose scenes with a precise vision you often can’t match in live action. In the case of Aardman Animation, the production company’s animated works are always enhanced by the creative prospects of their medium.
In the case of Aardman’s latest, Early Man, the opportunities of animation help bring to life a giant duck-dinosaur hybrid that chases down cavemen in scenes that are so much funnier than they should be, at least when you consider them on paper. Aardman turns silliness into an artform, and Early Man continues their admirable lineage of productions that prove they’re the Picasso of animated absurdity.
This pleasant and hilarious film tells the story of an eclectic cavemen tribe, the last of their ancestors, who challenge a bronze-hungry bureaucrat named Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) who threatens to seize their homeland. This challenge involves a simple football match (or soccer, as us Americans like to call it), played between the unexperienced cavemen troupe and a skillful group of all-stars who represent Nooth’s Bronze Age City. Led by the affable Dug (Eddie Redmayne), this rag-tag crew of prehistoric goofballs play out the cliché actions of a standard underdog sports story, but with endlessly delightful results.
Directed by Nick Park, who is most notable in the Aardman canon for 2000’s Chicken Run, Early Man is a breezy, 89-minute romp that stuffs itself to capacity with visual gags, knee-slapping puns and riotous dialogue. With their UK roots, Aardman’s sense of humor is a welcome detour when contrasted against the comedic elements of American studios like Pixar and DreamWorks.
There are so many jokes packed into a single conversation, or even a single shot, that the film is essentially storyboarded as if it were a part of the Sunday funnies. Aardman is at its absolute best with humor that is strictly visual, which is why 2015’s Shaun the Sheep Movie is their best film—a silent escapade of one sight gag after another.
Early Man, despite paling in comparison, is still an exceptional work from Aardman that delivers exactly the type of humor, heart and heroism we’ve come to expect from the production company. The story is predictable, sure, but Early Man constantly makes up for it with its sly blend of wit and whimsy that is often missing from animated features that feel like they’re thrown on the screen straight from an assembly line. In the case of Early Man it is the assembly line, its products being howl-worthy humor and engaging exploits. If there’s one thing you can count on Aardman for, it’s originality, and Early Man delivers in spades.