I’ve been a sucker for Nick Park’s animated work since I first laid eyes on his Oscar-winning short Creature Comforts more than twenty years ago. (Little did I know that I’d already seen some of his stop-motion work in the “Penny” segments of Pee-wee’s Playhouse.) Wallace and Gromit won my heart soon afterwards, and I’ve enjoyed all of his work since then: shorts, features, and TV specials, all made for Aardman studios. I love the distinctive design of his characters and his signature blend of cleverness and silliness. One could never mistake a Nick Park movie for an animated feature by an American studio.
All of that is on display in his new feature Early Man, an endearing story of cavemen who form a football (Americans read: soccer) team in order to reclaim their home turf from the clutches of their greedy Bronze Age successors. Our youthful underdog hero Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his loyal sidekick Hognob (voiced by Park himself) are tormented by a self-aggrandizing bully named Lord Nooth, whose faux-French dialect disguises the fact that it’s Tom Hiddleston acting the part.They are joined by Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Miriam Margolyes, and the vocally versatile Rob Brydon.
Like most Aardman movies this one isn’t out to pummel you with gags or dazzle you with rapid-fire pacing. It’s content to take its time and amuse an audience (young or old) with funny-looking creatures, clever dialogue, subtle jokes, puns, and sheer nonsense. Park also understands the importance of giving the viewer rooting interest and provides it for us–you can’t help but love these characters.
Another mark of Aardman films is that they are proudly, resolutely British. I don’t pretend to get all the jokes in Early Man (my English son-in-law couldn’t stop laughing) but that’s OK because there are more than enough to go around.
Early Man may not have the punch or pizzazz of a mainstream Hollywood cartoon feature, but it has a tangible charm all its own. As a fan, I wouldn’t have it any other way.