Sunday, March 11, 2018

Late for Early Man

Maybe I'm selling Peter Rabbit short here, but what the heck, America? Our cousins from across the pond have given us three family movies since the start of the new year, and that's the one we've made a hit, rather than Paddington 2 (a modest success) or Early Man, which I wound up watching in a tiny cinema because it's down to just early matinees fairly quickly?

Ah, well. Even in an 18-seat theater, there were a fair amount of kids, and they seemed to really dig it (I'm kind of ambivalent over seeing A Wrinkle in Time in one of the fancy theaters later today, just because there will likely be fewer members of the movie's intended audience). Hopefully it will find its audience later; I know I'll certainly do my part where that's concerned, having as I do a couple of high-energy nieces who might go for a movie where a bunch of cavemen are useless at soccer until a girl shows them how it's done.

Early Man

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 March 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #9 (first-run, DCP)

There's a good chance that the children for whom Early Man was made have never heard of its creator's other work - Nick Park's last short work as a director was ten years ago, and his last feature three years before that. He's kept busy as a producer, sure, but if I tell my nieces that Early Man comes from the guy who made Wallace & Gromit, it'll mean nothing to them, even beyond how they may not really get that specific people make movies. Nevertheless, it's good for those of us who are old enough to remember to see him back, and the kids will really appreciate it even if they don't know he's made things before.

It brings its viewers to prehistoric times, when a small tribe of cave-people lived in a secluded valley surrounded by badlands, getting by hunting rabbits (badly). Dug (voice of Eddie Redmayne) is a bit more ambitious, although Chief Bobnar (voice of Timothy Spall) sees no need. It could be a useful trait, though, as a group of people who have mastered bronze move in and drive them out of their valley and Dug, back against their wall and seeing that the group is obsessed with sport, challenges their leader, Lord Nooth (voice of Tom Hiddleston), to a game of football(*). Sure, Dug has only seen a couple minutes of the game and the rest of his tribe hasn't seen that, but he soon makes the acquaintance of Goona (voice of Maisie Williams), a super-fan despite the team's no-girls-allowed policy.

(*) or "soccer"; I'm just going by what they use in the movie.

It's an utterly daft story that fits nowhere in actual history, but it's also delightful; Park and his crew of fabricators and animators have built themselves a world where the familiar and the fanciful can meet up in almost any way, but it's not just a matter of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. There's a careful balance between the winking comedy of seeing present-day things transposed into a primitive setting and just getting weird, and when Dug first regains consciousness inside the Bronze-Agers' city, what follows is a genuinely delightful sequence as the filmmakers are very careful that he's never too familiar with things he shouldn't understand, even if they're familiar to the audience. Park captures just enough of how genuinely scary finding oneself in a strange new world can be to strike a chord but also lets Dug's curiosity push it back so the audience can enjoy the clever, playful environment on display.

Full review on EFC

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