by Charles Kirkland Jr.
The evolution of the game of football is discovered in the rollicking animated comedy, Early Man.
A long time ago, an asteroid collides with the Earth. But instead of killing everything, the asteroid becomes the first football and the game is born. The history of the game is collected in rock paintings for all to see. Dug (Eddie Redmayne) is just a simple caveman but with his best buddy, Hognob the pig (Nick Park), he has great aspirations for his fellow cave clan. Instead of hunting rabbits for food, he believes that they could hunt a wooly mammoth. It’s a reasonable plan until we get to see his clan, a ragtag group of misfits and not so highly evolved thinkers for lack of better wording. After they struggle to capture one rabbit, the chief of the clan convinces him that mammoths are a little out of their comfort zone. As the clan is celebrating their success in the capture of a rabbit, a large wooly mammoth armored in bronze comes through their valley and chases all of the clan into the badlands. All except for Dug. He falls into the group of invaders equipment and goes to their land. Once he gets found and captured, he challenges the invading “bronzers” leader, Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) to a football game for their valley.
Written and directed by Nick Park (Chicken Run, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit), Early Man utilizes the same clay figure, stop motion, animation process that was used in Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep and the classic Wallace and Gromit series. In fact, if you look closely at one of the crowd scenes you can see Wallace and Gromit in this film.
Knowing the pedigree of the movie, it is common knowledge that this movie has a British center of relevance so it is obvious that when I mention football we are talking about what we Americans call soccer. The setting of the film is stated in the beginning as being Manchester. But if you are a fan of Wallace and Gromit and the like, you already know about the humor you will encounter here. There are a lot of spit-takes and other instances of people getting covered in all kinds of nastiness, a pig that barks like a dog, a super smart rabbit and even a giant man-eating mallard which all communicates well to children. But like all good animation nowadays, there are plenty of jokes that communicate straight to the adults as well.
The fun of Early Man is in the soccer. The story itself is mostly predictable but that is rewarding for the children who watch it. But even Oscar winner Redmayne (Theory of Everything) is a supporting star for the soccer. The champion team from the “bronzers” is named Real and the commentators make a Man United joke which may go over the head of those not familiar with the world football but for those who get it, it is a knee-slapping good time.
There is a great “girl power” moment in the movie. Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), who is a delight as the shopgirl Goona, dreams of playing on the field with the stars. When she gets her chance by playing with “The Brutes”, Lord Nooth starts to complain until he realizes Queen Oofeefa (soccer reference, get it?) is behind him. The queen quickly finishes his sentence in saying that girls can do whatever men can.
Rated PG for rude humor and some action, Early Man, at its core, is a soccer commercial, a creatively funny and inspiring one, but a big commercial nonetheless. It’s not on the level of complexity as the great Chicken Run but it is good, silly, laugh out loud family fun and certainly worth a matinee night out, for those in the know.