Review: Early Man
Dug, Hognob and Goona
Almost 30 years ago, audiences were introduced to something they never saw before. Stop-motion animation had been around for decades already, famously used for cheesy monster movies and the children's series Gumby, but this was different. 1989 saw the release of the first entries in Creature Comforts and Wallace and Gromit, both by filmmaker Nick Park. Now clay (really plastecine) characters were imbued with a range of emotion, expression, humor and subtle acting that were never before attempted in this format.
A number of shorts, TV series and specials followed over the decades as well as the studio's (Aardman's) first feature film, the masterpiece Chicken Run, and a feature-length Wallace and Gromit. But then the studio lost their way for a time. Attempting to jump on the computer animation bandwagon led to a series of lackluster output such as 2006's Flushed Away, which lost sight of what made their previous work worth watching. Another major factor in the lull was that creative mind Nick Park stepped back from taking the lead in these films, with a noticable change in quality. This continued even after Aardman returned to stop-motion animation with 2012's The Pirates. While visually stunning and also their first and only to be in 3D, it was squandered on uninspired characters and a story that didn't really know where it was going. Things got back on track in 2015 with Shaun the Sheep, based on Park's TV show of the same name. While not as big budget as The Pirates, it had it where it counts.
Their latest effort, Early Man, is also a winner, being directed and co-written by Park. While it would be even better in 3D, like The Pirates, I can understand why that isn't financially feasible what with a slightly lower budget combined with less advertising and a less prominent distributer. Using CG minimally for some backgrounds and set and crowd expansion, it retains the charm of rustic, detailed sets, props and characters that makes for real eye-candy in high-definition, down to even the slight whisker stubble present on the tribe chief towards the beginning of the film. The trademark brand of dry British humor coupled with humorous yet subtle inflections on the characters faces make for some great comedy at every turn. Add a root-worthy underdog story and you've got an hour and a half of great hand-crafted fun.