Early Man – Review

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Early Man Review

Early Man the latest masterpiece from Aardman is a work of excellence. Director Nick Park, one of the worlds most legendary filmmakers brings us an adventure that is filling with wonder, comedy, and whimsy. Set in the prehistoric days of cavemen we find two worlds separated by their interpreted value of wealth. For the early men there is the crater that they live in, for the civilized world at the time there is shiny bronze metal. The artistry of this film is very true to the classic stylings of Nick Parks tastes in everything from character design down to the animation. The hands on feel of the film is a purposeful intent with “boiling/chatter/movement” of the animal fur, along with the finger prints in the clay of the puppets and handmade environments built of plastic, paper, plaster and wood all give Early Man the perfect ingredients for a magical and heartfelt story that is sure to please all ages.

I was lucky enough to talk to Nick over the phone about this film and the process.

SMM: How did the idea of Early Man come about? How did you come up with the initial idea?

Nick Park: It kind of again really, a lot of these ideas come from a drawing or a sketch. I remember sketching a caveman. I’ve always been attracted to the idea of a tribe of cavemen and women in animation terms. I feel it particularly suites the medium, stop frame. The earthness of it the real viseral nature of it, the clay and the hair. I was drawing a guy with a club hitting a rock and that got me thinking about sport and weither a caveman can play sport. Then the story idea sort of quickly started to develop from there. I though to myself I’ve never seen a perhistoric sports movie before. So that sort of inspired me to do a new idea. How did the cavemen invent football, what if they had to win a game in order to be able to win something valuable back.

SMM: The film is very tried and true to the traditional stop motion animation techniques. You kept a lot of the boiling and chatter in the film that most productions try to eliminate. You also made a film that is kind and gentle in comparison to most animated films out there today. Can you talk a little about these two aspects of Early Man?

Nick Park: Yeah there are a few things there really, but it was very much like you say, wanting to get back, even though we probably used technology more extensively than ever because of the nature of the story taking us to these amazing landscapes. At the same time I always wanted to get back to the clay. The clay is so important and a sort of humor comes from the clay. I love the fur and the fabrics. That’s been a very important thing because it has a sort of charm of its own. It makes you mindful of King Kong or early animation. Animators often shy from things like fur and hair because it will move around as you say boil. I was often saying yes that’s good lets go with it as long as the character comes through. Yeah, the story is quite gentle, and big and dramatic at times. We had all sorts. You know you go through so many story meetings. We make the whole thing with storyboards first, a giant animatic, or a story reel, putting our own voices on or temporary music. Trying to find the shape of the story and then we show it to the studio, we show it to the team and get loads of notes back. Maybe the story has come off kilter here or maybe it becomes too much about the wrong person, you know it goes out of balance, so we have to redo scenes. We probably had to storyboard everything about twenty times really.

– To read more of the interview be sure to checkout the Early Man Issue of Stop Motion Magazine (Coming Soon)

I have to warn you that the rest of this article will have a few spoilers.

In the film Early Man we find young Dug who is part of a tribe that lives in the impact crater of a meteorite. Dug’s tribe makes up a band of various characters who’s daily exploits are to catch a rabbit for dinner. Fortunately for the rabbit, they never do. Their very existence is threatened by a more civilized group of people who have the technology of bronze. This groups main focus is metal and they kick Dug’s tribe out of the crater so as to harvest the bronze in the soil. Dug discovers that the civilization has a sport that allows them a chance to win back their land and it’s called Football.

What makes this film characters special is the gentle clumsy nature of the caveman. Their innocence is a breath of fresh air our modern hyperactive films with over the top action hero computer generated films. Don’t get me wrong, those films are fun to watch, but there is something special about a character that is kind and gentle and animated completely by hand. There’s a magic there and Aardman knows how to achieve this feel. Dug’s sidekick Hognob is wild boar that is Dug’s version of a happy free wheeling Grommit that loves to get into all sorts of messes with Dug.

The large Musk Ox and Wholly Mammoths are amazing puppets given their size and scale. The studio only made one of each since they were so big. We can only imagine the joy the animator must have had to be able to play with a giant wholly mammoth toy. It’s brilliant to think that somewhere there’s this gorgeous puppet sitting on a shell and only the most skilled of animators and technicians were allowed the opportunity to model, build, and animate these masterpieces of moveable art. The world they occupied was lovingly handcrafted with a number of varying environments from a forrest setting to a jam packed soccer stadium filled with people. The set and prop builders love for making animation is evident in their highly detailed sets and stages.

What I personally really loved about this film was the true to nature characteristic of traditional stop motion. It becomes apparent that the film intentionally left the imperfections in the film. This can be seen in the puppets where the finger prints are left in and the clothing and fur move where the animator had touched the puppet. Yet there is a style and grace to the animation that is all Aardman. It has its own stamp, it’s own feeling that no one can emulate. The balanced story of good versus evil is a tried and true methodology that allows for a good character arc and hero’s journey, but Aardman does something different with this, they keep it so pure and the characters so goofy and fun that you can be there when Dug and his tribe play football to win back the valley. By keeping a consistent flow through the whole film with no slow parts with heavy dialogue, Early Man gives the viewer a sense of friendship, kindness, and hope with each frame. It’s a magical film and is sure to be a classic.

To learn more about Early Man and read exclusive behind the scenes and interviews with the creators of the film be sure to check out Issue #30 of Stop Motion Magazine. (Coming Soon!)