This is a fun movie, an epic story made in the stop-motion production style.
It opens with dinosaurs in the English countryside. Then the dinosaurs are obliterated by an asteroid, which also creates a lovely valley where plants and rabbit-hunting cavemen thrive. Then that idyllic life is interrupted by Bronze Age villains who rather resemble the Normans, who conquered England a millennium or so later. Then comes an epic soccer match.
None of this has anything to do with real history, but so what? It’s very English in its humor, which even Americans can appreciate now that we all know that “football” means “soccer” across the pond. It’s also a product of the Nick Park Aardman team that gave us the Wallace and Gromit shorts and the “Chicken Run” movie.
The movie’s main character is Dug (Eddie Redmayne), who finds himself transported to the Bronze fortress whose overlord is the greedy, henpecked Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). Dug manages to get home after promising to return with a caveman football team to play against the Bronze all-stars.
Turns out the cave people have some soccer history of their own, but their big break comes when Goona (Maisie Williams), rejected by the Bronze team because she’s a girl, agrees to train Dug and the gang. The ensuing match is most enjoyable.
As is usual in dramatic comedy, the good-guy characters here are not as interesting as the villains. Nooth makes a fool of himself several times, including in his primitive text messaging — via bird — with his haughty wife. The Bronze football team are a pack of prima donnas (primi uomini in Italiano) while the team-oriented cavemen are steadfast but less memorable as individuals.
All appropriate for a nice outing of adults and younger people.
In a cinematic world of computer-generated imagery, the stop-motion filming of a movie like this is almost primitive. (In film terms it IS primitive; the original King Kong was a stop-motion creation of 1933.) The technique requires repositioning plasticene characters, shot frame by frame, to assemble the action. Even with CGI background elements and a very large production team, “Early Man” was made in daily increments of only 30 or 40 seconds each.
Happily, Wallace and Gromit have joined the classics of childhood cinematic literature. I had an enjoyable conversation over dinner recently with two youngsters who were familiar with W&G and also Road Runner, Bugs Bunny and other characters in the Looney Tunes archive. One scene that we all remembered fondly was the W&G battle with Feathers McGraw from “The Wrong Trousers,” which won the Animated Short Oscar in 1994.