Nick Park is best known as the creator of Wallace and Gromit, and Shaun the Sheep, but he also had a hand in one of the greatest music videos of all time – Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.
An era defining slice of visual art, at just 27 and newly hired at studio Aardman Animations, Park was responsible for this part of the claymation section of the clip, featuring an egg that became chickens…
Appropriately enough his first full length feature film was titled Chicken Run and following its release in 2000, managed to gross around a quarter of a billion dollars, becoming the highest-grossing stop motion animated film ever.
Since then Park has gone on to produce, write and direct Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit as well as producing the Shaun the Sheep movie.
Park is back in fine form juggling all three jobs for Early man, as well as voicing a handful of characters.
The film kicks off with a couple of dinosaurs brawling in brutish fashion before they are interrupted by an asteroid crashing to earth, obliterating a volcano and coming to rest in a gigantic crater of it’s own making.
The flaming remnants of the meteorite roll to a stop in the middle of the enormous hollow before being investigated by a curious caveman, and as he quickly discovered the small ball-shaped object holds the heat of the sun.
He quickly tosses this ball object towards to a fellow tribesman who kicks it away to another fellow primitive person to avoid being burnt and so on – Voila! – Soccer is born.
It was an unexpected beginning to the story, and as well as being very funny and brilliantly animated in the Aardman style, it set the tone for a tale that is less about “Early Man” than it is about “The Beautiful Game”.
We skip forward several ages and Dug, a young caveman (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) is living with his tribe in relative peace in this now gorgeous hidden valley where he dreams of hunting something bigger than the rabbits they are accustomed to.
It does not take long for his wish to be answered, as the valley inhabitants are forced to flee their home with the invasion of the vastly technologically superior Bronze Age people, who arrive astride gigantic mechanical mammoths and claim the valley, and it’s riches for themselves, banishing the Neanderthals to the Badlands.
Dug, failing to escape with the rest of his tribe, decides to infiltrate the bronze walled city where he meets a girl by the name of Goona who is selling pans at the local markets.
Dug attempts to enter a huge stadium inside the city without paying the “compulsory voluntary admission fee”, thus attracting the attention of the guards who give chase.
He dodges his pursuers and finds himself in a locker room shower, before taking the field as one of the challengers to the champion team.
Unbeknownst to Dug he has wound up on soccer team in front of the whole population and when he is discovered to be an imposter, threatened (Tom Hiddleston as) Lord Nooth, the leader of the Bronze Age City.
Dug challenges Nooth to a football match with the victor claiming the valley.
Returning to the Badlands to train the tribe for the contest with the help of a giant duck and a secret weapon in Goona, Dug discovers there is a hidden history to his mob and their relationship with the beautiful game.
All the while, Nooth is facing trouble on a different front as the Queen seeks to muscle in on his lucrative big game, and the pair argue at a distance with the help of a mimicking messenger bird (voiced wonderfully by Rob Brydon)
The day of the big game dawns and with the future of his clan at stake, can Dug and his teammates outplay Real Bronzio, the imposing local team full of football stars and win back the valley, or will the professionals triumph, relegating Dug and his community to a life in the mines?
Be sure to go and see Early Man these school holidays to find out!
Featuring an all star cast including Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams and Timothy Spall, this is Nick Park and his Aardman team at the top of their game.
4 Stars – “Exquisitely Handcrafted Hysterical Prehistoric Hijinks”