Jan 2, 2019
Welcome back to the podcast, as I’m continuing my exploration of Certified Fresh films found on HBO right now. Between today’s film, and tomorrow’s film, I’m covering the stop-motion animation genre pretty well.
Year Two continues to unfold here. We’re spoiler free now, for recent films, and the website will be undergoing some major reworking over the next few months. We’re also going to debut our first regular correspondent on Friday. I’ll leave it a surprise, but I can assure you it will be fantastic!
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Today’s movie is “Early Man” (2018), the Aardman Animations stop-motion film directed by Nick Park, and written for the screen by Mark Burton and James Higginson, based on a story by Nick Park and Mark Burton. The film follows Dug (Eddie Redmayne), a stone age man whose family village and fertile valley are invaded by a bronze age tribe intent on strip-mining, lead by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). After being driven from their home, Dug makes a bet with Lord Nooth to either reclaim the valley, or condemn his family to eternal servitude.
Aardman Animations has produced some of the greatest stop-motion content ever, from the multiple adventures of Wallace & Gromit, to the surprise hit “Chicken Run”, and the show I watched more than any other while raising my daughter, “Shaun the Sheep”. The characters are so endearing, and the comedy is incredibly smart, but what always captures my attention the most is the top notch animation, a far cry from virtually all earlier animators, and on the same level as Laika Entertainment, the geniuses behind “Kubo & The Two Strings”. Animation allows us to tell stories that simply wouldn’t work as a live action film, and especially if that’s a dodgy origin story about the beautiful game, aka football, or soccer to Americans. It is so ridiculous that it could only come from the mind of Nick Park, and I’m glad to have seen it on the screen, with the same level of care and attention brought to all his previous output.
Speaking of Far Cry, as a reward to myself for finishing up a year of reviews, I have been playing through Far Cry Primal, which is dramatically different, but also surprisingly similar to “Early Man”. Both are adaptations of life for prehistoric man. Both are set in an isolated valley where invading forces are seeking to kill or enslave the indigenous population. Both have lead protagonists that are clearly smarter, though not much smarter, than their fellow villagers. And both hinge their hopes and dreams on an ultimate victory over that force. I’m not sure which one is the more faithful adaptation, but I found the parallels quite funny. I feel like there’s a video game fan video in there somewhere, too. However, I think both properties also speak to some fundamental, perhaps even instinctual inclinations, whether that’s hunting an animal, or competing in sport, or even the more violent tendencies towards one another. “Early Man” is able to talk about ideas like colonization, the foundation and ridiculousness of monetary economies, and how that economy destroys the environment and the social fabric, in a humorous way, the same way that much of Nick Park’s work can speak on multiple levels, and in some ways a lot more accessible than dumping multiple hours into an open world video game. Almost 30 hours so far.
Park’s animation style, along with the influence of his back catalog, allows him to work effectively with caricatures as characters. Every member of Dug’s village, along with Lord Nooth’s charges, are delightfully over the top, exaggerated by a combination of great dialogue and voice work, and as mentioned before, a subtle representation of more serious ideas. If the film falls short anywhere, it’s that all these larger ideas need to be teased out of the story, especially as the film transitions from a tribal conflict in the world to a tribal conflict on the pitch. It’s a fun ride, from start to finish, but it feels like two or three separate films mashed together, further complicating any larger meaning or messaging.
“Early Man” (2018) is another great work from Nick Park and Aardman Animations, in a long line of pinnacle stop-motion animated content. Using his signature combination of the absurd and pedestrian, Park mashes together a prehistoric origin story for football at the coming of the bronze age that only he could have envisioned and executed so well. Nick Park fans, or fans of animation in general, should definitely check out this film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.4/10
“Early Man” (2018) is rated PG and is currently streaming on HBO.