Eddie Redmayne voices Dug, an unlikely hero that exhausts his own valueSTUDIO CANAL

Early Man starts well. This review could plausibly finish there, but I will humour this publication’s editors by providing the customary window-dressing.

We open with two dinosaurs doing battle in the shadow of a volcano. An on-screen caption reads “somewhere near Manchester”. We laugh. We keep laughing through the joyously silly prologue, our introduction to the various crackpot members of the protagonist’s tribe and their subsequent fevered rabbit hunt. Then – lo, what wonder is this? – a villain emerges from an armoured war elephant, speaking in an utterly outrageous French accent. We laugh some more.

“A fine demonstration that charm is not cultivated by form alone”

We continue to laugh as our hero infiltrates a Bronze Age settlement, the details to the rear of the screen just as glorious as the frivolity at the fore. Then a giant duck steps on the tribe’s only football (they have to win a match against the Bronze Age champions to save their valley, you see), and is then described by Richard Ayoade’s character as a “monstrous mallard”. We stop laughing.

And we never really start again. A ‘story consultant’ is listed in Early Man’s credits, and, whatever they might have been paid, it was too much. Early Man’s plot is catastrophically dismal, offering fewer surprises than might be expected from a three-panel strip comic, and in the meantime failing to develop its characters such that they become something more than generic caricatures.

Trailer for Early Man YOUTUBE

These points would not have mattered if the jokes had kept coming, but alas a sustained bombardment of gags died down to a trickle of limp puns. Two football commentators, whom one can only assume were intended as comic foils, were given a lot of lines, but no funny ones, as the remainder of the characters disappointingly transitioned from jocular to earnest.


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Early Man, indeed, does a tremendous job of engendering the viewer’s good will, then squandering it. The Kaiser Chiefs’ magnificent ‘I Predict a Riot’ gives way to a stolid cover of Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’. The puerile and the scatological encroach where before they had no hold. The outrageous French accent loses its appeal once it has nothing especially outrageous to say. At the film’s conclusion, the hilarity of the opening seemed but a distant memory, the boredom induced by the final scenes far more prominent in the mind.

It was jolly nice to see Aardman’s clay figurines in action once again, but Early Man is a fine demonstration that charm is not cultivated by form alone, and once the wit evaporates, impeccable stop-motion animation cannot sustain a film by itself. Similarly, it is all very well recruiting the vocal talents of Rob Brydon and Timothy Spall, but they are only entertaining as long as the script is. The latter had me practically doubled over with mirth at one point, but do we care when his character is injured after crashing into a goalpost? Not a jot.

So there we have it: Early Man starts well. It would take an indulgent soul, however, to argue anything more