The sweet yet stale “Early Man” feels like a cut above most animated kid flicks because the film’s humor doesn’t rely on gross-out jokes or lazy pop culture references. This family-friendly film from Aardman instead goes for the earnest and sincere angle that made the studio’s other movies (“Wallace and Gromit,” “Shaun the Sheep”) so special. It’s far from inspired, however, save for a few clever sight gags here and there. I’m not sure how this British import will go over with American youngsters but if you enjoy lively clay artistry and jerky stop-motion animation, this film has Aardman’s trademark cutesy visuals on full blown display.
The animation feels handmade and primitive itself, which makes for the perfect companion to the simplistic story that’s set in prehistoric times. When caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his tribe (including his beloved pig sidekick Hogknob) are thrown out of their home by the leader of the Bronze Age, Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), Dug tries to win back their land by challenging the invaders to a game of football (a.k.a. soccer).
What follows is an extended gag about the origin of soccer that will be lost on most who aren’t diehard European football fans. It’s not much of a story but director Nick Park succeeds in creating a fully realized fantasy world. His characters are so adorably goofy and charming that you’ll want to reach into the screen just so you can pinch their pudgy little cheeks.
It’s silly, colorful, and a fun enough way to pass a couple of hours.