Bend it like Flintstone
Aardman Animation and director Nick Park’s Early Man is the latest attempt to make an exciting movie about soccer—or “football/futbol,” as it’s known in those parts of the world where what Americans call “football” hasn’t caught on. As for soccer’s potential as thrilling cinema—well, I think it’s safe to say that if Nick Park can’t do it, it can’t be done.
Not that Early Man doesn’t have its pleasures; Nick Park and Aardman may be capable of turning out a downright stinker (who isn’t?), but they haven’t done it yet, and they don’t do it here. And there’s a grain of anthropological truth in the movie, if you think of it as a sort of wacky version of the extinction of Neanderthal humans in the face of the species commonly known as Cro-Magnon Man. Except that in Aardman’s version, the Cro-Magnons invented soccer and the Neanderthals beat them at their own game—with a little help from a giant carnivorous mallard duck.
Eddie Redmayne provides the voice of Dug, our Stone Age hero—and in so doing, Redmayne adds his name to that list of actors who are infinitely more interesting as the voice of an animated character than they are in roles where we can actually see their faces.
In the words of the Bronze Age maiden Goona (Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones), Dug is “really brave. And stupid. More stupid than brave, really.” And that’s his charm. Like Park’s immortal Wallace, Dug has a combination pet-slash-sidekick who is much smarter than he is; in Dug’s case, it’s a pig named Hognob, whose limited vocals are supplied by Nick Park himself.
Dug and his fellow cavemen, led by Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall), are happily ensconced in their wooded valley hunting rabbits when they are routed by the arrival of the technologically superior Bronze Agers, who plan to ravage Dug’s valley for its mineral resources. In a fit of reckless bravado, Dug persuades his fellows to challenge the Bronzers to a winner-take-all match, and the second half of Early Man traces the comical process of training for and playing the big game.
And here, I’m forced into a confession: Soccer absolutely bores me to distraction. I know that’s horribly narrow and provincial, and I feel just awful about it, I really do. Really. But ever since my fourth-grade teacher sent me and my classmates kicking a ball around a park, it has struck me as an idiotic waste of time. (I know, I know—Pelé, Dave Beckham, Mia Hamm and all that. It doesn’t help.) So when Early Man’s Bronzers and Stoners took the field, the movie lost me.
If you don’t share my peculiar aversion to the world’s most popular sport, feel free to nudge this review’s rating up a star or two. Even if you do, check Early Man out anyway. Nick Park and Aardman don’t have an unfunny movie in them.
They could probably even do one about golf.