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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 12:04 am

Aardman’s Early Man flat, unispired


What with computer animation dominating the genre over the past two decades, it’s a bit refreshing to see Aardman Animation still using the charmingly crude claymation that is their stock-in-trade. The herky-jerky, stiff movements of the characters, the layered but hardly meticulous settings, and limited but effective expressions harken to a more labor-intensive aesthetic that appeals to older viewers’ feelings of nostalgia, leaving the Pixar generation wondering what the fuss is all about.

Of course, if Nick Park and his cohorts were to change their approach it would be a shame, and he’s to be commended for sticking with what he knows. Truth be told, the process isn’t the problem where Aardman’s latest, Early Man, is concerned; it’s the script that’s sorely lacking. Set during the transition between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, the script by Mark Burton and James Higginson is as flat as unwashed hair, a collection of uninspired sight gags and obvious jokes that court tedium at every turn.

Dug (voice by Eddie Redmayne) is a forward-looking Neanderthal who suddenly finds himself and his tribe on the verge of eviction from their isolated forest. Seems the Bronze Age has come about without them knowing about it, and the rather dull but powerful Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) wants to mine for ore right where they live. This doesn’t sit well with our shaggy hero, and in a last ditch effort to save his home, he challenges Nooth’s all-star soccer team to a match that will determine whether the mining will ensue or not. Problem is, Dug and his tribe have never played the game before so they don’t stand a chance … that is, until they enlist a ringer in Goona (Maisie Williams), a young woman who’s not allowed to play on Nooth’s team and longs to prove herself on the pitch.

As expected, this underdog story contains nothing in the way of surprises; however, what is a bit startling is that Park, Burton and Higginson are unable to come up with a clever joke or imaginative sight gag. One would think that with soccer as the focus, ingenious visuals would occasionally grace the screen or a random witticism would generate a chuckle or two. They’re not to be had this time out, and while the running time is just shy of 90 minutes, Man ends up being an exercise in tedium that’s a drudgery to sit through.

Again, the craft on display in the Aardman films is impressive, and one can’t help but smile at the goofy expressions on the characters’ faces while there’s no question that no one does overbites quite like Park and company. However, as we know with the empty, special effects-laden product that bludgeons audiences on a regular basis, interesting visuals alone don’t make for a successful film. Well-written stories are the anchor for any quality movie and without one, dull affairs like Man are the result.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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