Early Man: Film Review
Vocal cast: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon, Maisie Williams
Director: Nick Park
Aardman animations are a stellar bunch.
Able to shape gold from plasticine and clay models, the studio's been more than capable of turning out comedic perfection since the Vaudeville-inspired Wallace and Gromit came to prominence.
That their proclivity for ensuring the humour is universal, clever and crafty and has been recognised so, means that Early Man's inability to match up to previous highs is, frankly, disappointing.
Nick Park once again takes the helms of this flick, the story of caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) who lives with his tribe in a world after the meteor hit the Earth,
A charming pre-titles sequence sets the scene, with quippy subtitles like Neo-Pleistocene era, an actual time, but also a subtle blink-and-miss-it nod to Aardman's choice of animation materials perhaps?
Trapped in a kingdom with other lesser dreamers, Dug and his gang find their way of life threatened by the arrival of Lord Nooth, and the arrival of the Bronze Age.
When Dug finds himself in their world, he's offered a challenge by Nooth - win a game of football or he and his people must forever quit their forest...
So far, so sports underdog.
And this is perhaps the biggest surprise of Early Man - the fact that it's essentially a riff on England's World Cup continual failures post 1966 in the faces of foreign teams.
Nooth is given a French accent, a reminder of the sporting rivalries of yore.
It seems mean to knock Early Man, which in fairness, is very passable family fare.
But given this is the company that brought us the never-less-than-brilliant Wallace and Gromit, the wonderful Shaun the Sheep film, it does pale in comparison.
It's also perhaps no surprise that Dug resembles Wallace with his big overbite grin and Dug's constant pig--pal HogNob has the temperament and expressiveness of a Gromit style ancestor.
It seems in many ways that Park's chasing his own highs, as much as Early Man chases and evolves the idea that continual football losing nations can still win tournaments (as everyone in England nods repeatedly in agreement.)
The inventiveness is occasionally there - be it in replay puppets which channel Punch and Judy in their football replays - or in the odd one-liners and sight gags that pepper the film at certain points.
There's also a nod to sporting sexism as Maisie Williams' clearly gifted footballer is denied the chance because she's a girl, all washed up in elements of Escape To Victory.
Overall, Early Man lacks perhaps the loose zaniness and masterful touches that Aardman's gifted us with in the past.
It still entertains, but it's never quite as evolved or as clever as it aims to be - and while it's essentially a celebration of the beautiful game (and perhaps a sly commentary on how cavemen play it), it never quite manages a romping victory that you'd expect or hope for.