It's a new claymation offering from Britain's Aardman Animations. It's about soccer. It pits Stone Age underdogs against Bronze Age elites. (Guess who wins.) Its title has a double meaning: "Man" suggests not only ancient peoples, but Man United, Manchester's legendary soccer – er, football team. Get it? Early Man?
By now, you will have already decided whether you want to see this movie. The rest of this review will not change your mind.
After winning over audiences with their award-winning shorts, Aardman hit a home run – sorry for the mixed metaphor; should I say they scored a goal? – with their debut feature Chicken Run, a smart, funny, well-plotted caper that delivered on all fronts. Their followup, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, confirmed that Wallace & Gromit were best in small doses. The studio experienced several ups and downs after founder Nick Park stepped back from directing: their expensive CG misfires Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas flopped; The Pirates! Band of Misfits was a fast-paced return to form; Shaun the Sheep was cute, but strictly kids' stuff.
Park is back in the director's chair for Early Man, and while the animation satisfies, with beautiful sets and the classic Aardman character style (wide mouths, Chiclet teeth, googly eyes), the whole thing is predictable, excessively silly, and a bit condescending: no joke can play out without some character shaking his head or rolling his eyes afterward, which deadens the comic effect.
Young children will enjoy the rampant slapstick – characters get splashed in the face with some kind of goop at least a dozen times; a Godzilla-sized mallard interrupts the proceedings from time to time – but older viewers hoping for the cleverness of a Chicken Run will be disappointed.