Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Mark Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Nick Park, Rob Brydon, Kayvan Novak, Johnny Vegas, Selina Griffiths, Simon Greenall, Gina Yashere, Luke Walton, Richard Webber (voices)
Written by: Mark Burton, James Higginson, based on a story by Nick Park, Mark Burton
Directed by: Nick Park
MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor and some action
Running Time: 89
Date: 02/16/2018

Early Man (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cave Heart

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Legendary Aardman animator Nick Park returns for the first time since his last "Wallace & Gromit" short, A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008), although he did secure a writing credit on the wonderful Shaun the Sheep Movie. His new Early Man is a minor entry in the Aardman catalogue, but still quite likable and funny.

The movie imagines the cavemen inventing football (soccer) after a soccer ball-like meteor crash lands. Generations later, the Stone Age cavemen live in peace in a lush valley, hunting rabbits and living life. The spirited Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) — accompanied by his piglike pet Hognob (voiced by Nick Park, in his acting debut!) — gets them going each morning and suggests that they might try hunting bigger game, while the chief (voiced by Timothy Spall) thinks everything should stay the way it is.

Enter a more evolved people, from the Bronze Age. They have taken up the game of soccer and begun making everything out of bronze. They even have commerce and money, which the bilious, greedy Lord Nooth (voiced by Tom Hiddleston) covets endlessly, charging citizens for the privilege of watching soccer. When Nooth invades the valley looking for more bronze, Dug challenges his champion team to a game; if the cave people win, they get to return to their valley. If they lose, they will go to work in the mines.

This progressive movie also features a female character, Goona (voiced by Maisie Williams), who loves soccer and wants to play but is forbidden by her Bronze cohorts. So she agrees to teach and play for the Stone Age team. It's a nice touch, and the movie does not make a big deal of it.

Early Man has fun with lots of wonderfully silly jokes, but I confess the designs of the characters are a bit on the grotesque side, and it's difficult to find them cute or cuddly. It's difficult to relate directly to them; another caveman picture, The Croods, had the same problem. Additionally, as clever as the movie is combining cavemen and soccer, there's really not much more to it than that, and the "big game" plot arc is fairly simple and unsurprising. Yet this is not to say that the movie isn't worthwhile. It has a genuine, kindhearted quality that beats out something like vulgar Peter Rabbit movie, every time.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release showcases pretty much flawless picture and sound, and it's a joy to see the hand-manipulated figures in high-definition. It includes a DVD and a digital copy. Bonuses include a 15-minute making-of featurette, featuring interviews with Park, Redmayne, and Hiddleston; a 9-minute featurette on the film's humor; a 7-minute one on model design and set building; and finally an 8-minute featurette on making the puppets.

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