Early Man (PG)

Action/Adventure 89 min. February 16, 2018
By April Wolfe
Let's get this out of the way: Nick Park's caveman-centric animated feature Early Man is actually about soccer. Or football, depending on which side of the pond you're on. This half-inflated comedy about kooky Stone Age cave dwellers begins well enough, like a revisionist history lesson, maybe even like a stop-motion History of the World: Part I. Aardman Animations (Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep) generally invests a great deal of care and precision into its storytelling, but this picture is somehow both simple and nonsensical. Early Man is the convoluted, caveman-populated skewering of FIFA that nobody asked for.

Park and his team of animators have always excelled at creating hilarious animals -- dogs, sheep, chickens, goats -- whose eccentricities are the engines of Park's stories. The standout this time is Hognob, a wordless warthog who grunts, wheezes and howls. (He's voiced by Park himself, who gives the funniest performance in a cast that includes Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams and Tom Hiddleston.)

Hognob is the eager but anxiety-ridden pal, the loyal companion to do-gooder dunderhead Dug (Redmayne), a caveman dreamer whose primitive clan gets pushed off its land by Bronze Age bully Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) and his mechanized instruments of war. Hognob helps Dug fight back. And later, when Dug cuts a deal with Nooth to play one epic soccer match for the rights to the land, Hognob is dragged into his master's hijinks. You get the picture.

But something about the Neanderthals and their new human counterparts falls flat. It's much more amusing to watch Hognob pantomime his discomfort than to endure another dead line where a humanoid character explains his discomfort.
Nick Park Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall Mark Burton, John O'Farrell Lionsgate

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