Sunday, May 20, 2018
Video review: "Early Man"
For those of us who care about the viability of feature films as a platform for stop-motion animation, the failure of “Early Man” was disturbing. It was a product of Aardman Animations, which is basically the Pixar of this particular niche of moviemaking (“Wallace & Gromit,” “Chicken Run,” etc.). It was a critical and box office flop.
If these guys can’t get it right, it makes it harder to for other stop-motion films to get produced.
The setup is that a group of Stone Age folks have their happy little valley invaded by Bronze Age types, and are thrown out so the natural resources can be exploited. Dug (Eddie Redmayne), the puckish young member of the tribe who’s always pressing them to try new ideas, travels to their adversary’s city and finds out the entire populace is nuts for football. (What we Yanks call soccer.)
He challenges the imperious Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) to a match against his top team, Real Bronzio, made up entirely of giant Nordic types. If they win, they get their homeland back. If not, they must abandon it forever. Thus commences a few days of intensive training, helped by Goona (Maisie Williams), a city woman who herself dreams of playing in the all-male game.
It’s a colorful film, and the soccer action gets the juices flowing in the second half. There are also a few solid throwaway jokes. My favorite involves the aged chief of Dug’s tribe (voice of Timothy Spall), fighting off decrepitude at the age of 32.
But overall, it just doesn’t have the smarts and zing of other Aardman efforts.
Let me offer this caveat: although I was somewhat bored by the film when I first reviewed it, I caught it a second time in the company of my boys, ages 4 and 7, who positively adored it. And I will say I actually enjoyed it more upon second viewing.
Here’s hoping more, and better, stop-motion animated movies are just around the corner.
Video extras are merely adequate, and are the same for Blu-ray and DVD editions. They consist of four making-of featurettes: “Before the Beginning of Time: Creating Early Man,” “Nick Park: Massaging the Funny,” “The Valley Meets the Bronze” and “Hanging at Aardman Studios: A Workshop Exploration.”