Despite some sparks of brilliance, ‘Early Man’ falls flat


It’s not every day that you get to see a caveman buddy comedy. And it’s certainly not every day that that caveman buddy comedy has a soccer twist.

So I was hopeful that Aardman Animations’ “Early Man” would be a breath of fresh, prehistoric air.

But while the movie shines at times, its surprisingly stale storyline keeps it from becoming an instant, stop-motion classic.

Set at the dawn of time, “Early Man” follows the intrepid caveman Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) and his tribe as they unite to protect their valley from the evil Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), who plans to claim it for his Bronze Age City.

“The age of Stone is over, you know?” the massage-loving, money-kissing Lord Nooth declares. “Long live the age of Bronze!”

Soon, though, Lord Nooth agrees to a compromise — Dug and his tribe of lovable losers may battle for their land against the Real Bronzio soccer team, which is known for its short shorts, big talent and even bigger egos.

There’s only one problem. Even though Dug has evidence that their ancestors played soccer, the tribe doesn’t know how to play.

“Dug, it’s time to give up, for their sake,” advises tribe leader Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall). “They’re just not capable of it.”

Chief Bobnar has a long history of not believing in his tribe’s potential — he also refuses to let them hunt anything bigger than rabbits. (“Look at us,” he says. “Do you seriously think we can catch a mammoth?”)

But Dug, along with his new friend Goona (Maisie Williams), a soccer phenom he meets when he sneaks into the stadium late one night, believe.

What follows is a predictable underdog sports flick chock full of training sequences and bathroom humor with a few moments of true beauty and pure comedy.

The stop-motion film was produced by Aardman (“Wallace & Gromit,” “Shaun the Sheep”) and directed by Nick Park (“The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” “Chicken Run”), so, as you’d expect, it’s beautiful to watch. Details like the texture of the characters’ clothing, the grooves of their skin and tears that well in their eyes at one point are mesmerizing.

Also captivating are the hilarious Message Bird (voiced by Rob Brydon) used by the queen to pass along angry and condescending messages to Lord Nooth, and Hognob, Dug’s porcine pal.

Still, despite the incredible visuals and some plucky characters, the storyline, much like the long, flowing locks of the Real Bronzio soccer players, ultimately falls flat.



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