Take a trip back to the Plasticine Age with the latest offering from Aardman animation. Dug (Eddie Redmayne) must unite his tribe to reclaim their home from vicious invaders by winning a football match. Wait, what?
The absurdity of this premise is on a par with entering an arm wrestling contest to obtain custody of a child. Yet the single biggest failure of Early Man is its lack of success in creating a believable world. Even setting aside the almost gleeful historical inaccuracy, which puts Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs to shame, the world simply doesn’t add up.
Dug’s tribe of early humans live in a lush, green valley, which is invaded by ‘iron age’ people of almost steampunk level technology. Their society resembles that of Immortan Joe’s cult in Mad Max: Fury Road, but with football in place of petrol. Then there’s the bizarre mix of the stone age/medieval setting and the football-centered story. It’s jarringly nonsensical. This isn’t a problem of silliness, it’s just hard to invest in a world which doesn’t possess any internal logic. It would be like if Chicken Run involved the hens navigating the Bermuda triangle or if Shaun the Sheep became a podiatrist.
Then there’s the humour. The hallmark of Park is the sheer frequency of gags in every bit of every frame. I always thought this was partly a consequence of the level of thought required for every second of a stop motion animation. But when Early Man tries to do this the jokes feel overly familiar or land stone cold, with a disappointing reliance on cod accents. The best moments are Flintstone-esque gags about prehistoric life, but these moments are few and far between, and are substituted for lame football puns in the second half.
It does benefit from the loving, hand-crafted animation we’ve come to expect from the niche production company, but this can’t save an uninspired film from deflating quicker than a pig’s bladder headed by a triceratops. As a result it has the unfortunate distinction of flushing out Flushed Away as the worst Aardman film of the last 200,000 years.