Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston lend their voices to Aardman's prehistoric shenanigans
Between Pixar's The Good Dinosaur, Blue Sky's Ice Age and DreamWorks' The Croods, audiences' appetite for animated prehistoric parody seems well covered. Happily, no-one told Aardman Animations. If sea-faring competitors couldn't dampen the comic plunder of the studio's The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!, nor does the busy mammoth market put a dent in director Nick Park's deliciously daffy trip to a time pre-Wensleydale.
Ten years after his last directing gig on Wallace & Gromit short A Matter of Loaf and Death, quadruple Oscar-winner Park's charming comeback is so cosy it could keep your tea warm. Call it 'Nice Age', perhaps. Right from an early pun on the 'Neo-Pleistocene' era and the introduction of gormlessly toothy caveman Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), Wallace's spirit is lovingly upheld.
Plot-wise, Aardman's Arthur Christmas is echoed as Dug's clan of hapless rabbit-hunters are rendered near-homeless by preening Bronze Age empire-builders; the invaders' leader is Lord Nooth, voiced by Tom Hiddleston in an accent so daft it roams most of Europe looking for a home. Challenged to face Nooth's Real Bronzio squad at footie, Team Dug seem doomed: until twinkle-toed Bronze Age defector Goona (Maisie Williams) arrives, ready to turn early man into Early Man United.
If the ensuing tribute to teamwork comes as standard, it's distinguished by affable satires of regressive Brexit-style thinking and characteristically droll detail. Sight gags and gamely painful puns ('You haven't eaten your primordial soup…') mount, as does comic embarrassment and surrealism. Much of the lovable laughs lean on Dug's Gromit-like boar Hognob, who proves worth his comic weight in sausages during a set-piece where he massages Nooth. (Apparently, Park massaged Hiddleston to help get Nooth's vocal quiver right.) Viewed alongside animation's CGI-slickened evolution, it's the human touches applied to plasticine and pummelled actors that make Early Man so winning.
General release from Fri 26 Jan.