Directed by: Nick Park
Premise: An animated film. A Stone Age tribe has their valley taken from them by a Bronze Age lord. In an attempt to save their home, the tribe members challenge their opponents to a soccer match that will decide who gets control of the valley.
What Works: Early Man is another stop motion animation feature from Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit, and it has the same style as his other movies. Park’s animated features are good hearted and playful but they also possess a charm that is unique to the stop motion format. Early Man continues a lot of that and Park remains a unique voice in the animation marketplace. The characters of Early Man are distinct and loveable in their own dopey way. Like Park’s other movies, Early Man is funny and clever. The movie includes a variety of jokes from physical comedy to one-liners and the setting is packed with visual puns. A few of the jokes are groan-worthy but always amusing. This is a light movie and it moves along briskly. Early Man may not take on heavy subjects but it does its job of entertaining the audience and the movie will hold the attention of both adults and children. Despite its prehistoric setting, Early Man is really a soccer movie. That’s part of the joke. The movie imagines early people inventing soccer and the film has fun with the worldwide fanaticism around the sport. As a result, Early Man might play better for an international audience than it will for American viewers, who tend to be cooler toward the sport, but the filmmakers have a lot of fun playfully mocking the hoopla around soccer and sports fandom. And like all the best sports movies, Early Man puts more at stake than a single contest. The outcome of the match will determine the tribe’s future and the story includes a few effective bits among the players; what they learn about cooperation and teamwork pays off in the game. The satirical angle and the dramatic elements give Early Man some substance and the movie will play for viewers whether or not they have an interest in soccer.
What Doesn’t: The story of Early Man largely relies upon the conventions of sports movies. Like The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks, this is another story about a rag-tag group of underdogs who come together as a team and take on a well-heeled opponent. The structure is obvious and Early Man doesn’t deviate from it at all. This movie also dampens the quirkiness found in Nick Park’s other movies. The Wallace and Gromit films had a wonderful inventiveness about them. Less so in Early Man. The movie doesn’t have the wacky qualities that defined Park’s other work and Early Man plays everything very safe.
Bottom Line: Early Man is another fun piece of animation from Nick Park. It isn’t as imaginative as his other work but Early Man plays as a satisfying and family friendly sports movie.
Episode: #687 (February 25, 2018)