Aardman Animations has always provided a welcome alternative to the airbrushed digital perfectionism of Pixar. In such films as Shaun the Sheep Movie and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the British studio immerses you in daffy claymation worlds that feel delightfully handmade and as rubbery and sweet as bubble gum. You get the sense that its stable of filmmakers would rather spend their time coming up with dry rim-shot-ready throwaway gags than fetishizing the way wind rustles through a character’s fur.
That said, Aardman’s latest, Early Man, a prehistoric underdog tale, is not one of the studio’s best. Lacking the same wild creativity and helter-skelter energy that made Chicken Run a hit on this side of the Atlantic, the film is set at the moment when the Stone Age bumped up against the Bronze Age. It’s there that a simple, sunny caveman with a mop of shaggy hair named Dug (Eddie Redmayne) tries to save his dim, rabbit-hunting tribe’s homeland by challenging the rapacious baddies of the Bronze Age to a soccer match. What comedy there is comes from Tom Hiddleston’s Lord Nooth — a miser with a head like a soft-boiled egg. But the laughs are mild at best. At least there’s director Nick Park’s playful Silly Putty visual imagination to take your mind off just how thin the story is. B-