In Early Man, Aardman is still making people laugh whilst thumbing its nose at established Hollywood protocol, winning Oscars and broadening its ever increasing fan base.
There are few British institutions who have made it onto the international stage, remained unsullied by corporate movie bosses and retained their identity. Aardman Animation which is unique in being the only mainstream stop motion production company to have navigated these dangerous waters occupies a singular place in film.
It may be true the studio has moved on in scale since those British Gas adverts but the sensibility thankfully remains the same. From Wallace and Gromit through to Chicken Run and Pirates this company has won Oscars, challenged limitations whilst subtlety moving beyond them. What Nick Park and company bring to the table with Early Man is an extension of that ethos into a story which breaks new ground. Bringing the same sense of fun and slapstick comedy which has been a staple of every Aardman film since inception, broader themes are explored beneath the façade.
Attracting a cast which include Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall and Miriam Margoles, Early Man uses evolution and football subplots for diversionary tactics. Having previously used Hugh Grant for Pirates, garnering the serves of Hiddleston as an outrageous Bronze Age potentate is a stroke of genius. Eddie Redmayne and Maisie Williams also appear to be fully engaged with the material, but Hiddleston does get most of the good lines. Levels of detail in terms of background humour, visual gags and physical jokes are reassuringly high while the hit rate is also maintained.
Having watched numerous Aardman productions normally over Christmas it is obvious that having fun is more important than narrative progression. Characters are defined by vocals, moulded by performance then perfected during editing. Whereas this would have been more rudimentary during the early productions, as success has brought wealth and freedom so techniques have changed. For that reason Early Man feels like a family affair incorporating an army of devotees making it lighter in tone but heavier on jokes.
Die Hard references, Life of Brian hat tips and a Spielberg franchise of prehistoric proportions all get their moments in the sun, meaning there is something for everyone. These actors may be the best in the business from a marquee bums on seats perspective, but many are here because of what Aardman represents. A filmmaking process which has few advocates, remains highly specialised and for that reason uniquely British, Aardman is still making people laugh whilst thumbing its nose at established Hollywood protocol, winning Oscars and broadening its ever increasing fan base.