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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Early Man is a charming stop-action animation comedy/adventure directed by Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit. A tribute to -- and fictional origin story of -- the game of soccer (or "football," as most of the world calls it), the movie cleverly proposes that the "sacred game" started in prehistoric times, when a meteorite in the shape of a ball was kicked around by titular "early man." Featuring an all-star British voice cast (including Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, and Timothy Spall), this kid-friendly comedy is a classic underdog sports story, with the Stone Age team fighting to save their small hometown from a group of Bronze Age conquerors. Expect lots of physical comedy, some (nonsexual) near nakedness, a silly unintentional kiss between a hog and a man, and the sort of potty humor that moviegoers of all ages either love or hate. There's a sweet emphasis on teamwork, as well as acknowledgment of female athletes' contributions to sports.
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What's the story?
EARLY MAN starts off in prehistoric England, specifically Manchester, where an asteroid strike breaks off into a small, round ball that the surviving men kick around, unknowingly creating the game of soccer. "A few ages later" in that same valley, the residents of a small village -- including Chief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall), young adult Dug (Eddie Redmayne), and their friends -- are forced out of their homes and into the harsh badlands by armed Bronze Age soldiers led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), who proclaims that the Age of Stone is done. When Dug is accidentally taken to the soldiers' modernized Bronze Age city, he ends up playing football (soccer), which they call "the sacred game," in an arena. After he's discovered, Dug challenges the premier team in the league, Real Branzino, for the chance to earn back his community's valley. But if they lose, the Stone Age crew has to work in the mines. Dug enlists local soccer lover/market vendor Goona (Maisie Williams) to coach his friends into a team that might just have a David vs. Goliath chance against the Bronze Age's team of superstars.
Is it any good?
Aardman Animation's football feature is a winner thanks to charming characters, clever physical comedy, and a simple premise about soccer's fictional prehistoric origins. Never underestimate the silly laugh-aloud goodness of a pig that wants to play soccer, a giant mallard duck, or a bunch of cavemen learning the rules of soccer. Hognob the hog, voiced by Early Man director Nick Park, is one of the movie's scene-stealing characters -- a coup, considering that he doesn't quite talk so much as, well, grunt. Redmayne's Dug, meanwhile, is an optimist who's sure of the power of teamwork, and he and Williams' soccer-loving Goona make a good team.
Kids, particularly those who play soccer, will love the movie's goofier aspects (see: Hognob) and the reimagining of how the game was born (in Manchester, England, of course). Parents will enjoy the wordplay and sight gags, and will appreciate the messages of teamwork, community, and courage. Spall's gray-haired Chief gets one of the biggest laughs of the film when he's asked to join the team and responds, "I'm too old! I'm 32" -- a wink, wink nod to both the limited life expectancy of ages past and the equally short viability of professional soccer players. The plot isn't as intricate as that of Chicken Run or The Pirates!, but it's slightly older-skewing than preschool favorite Shaun the Sheep. For families that love soccer, this is a definite goal.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the potty/rude humor in Early Man. Why do you think those kinds of jokes are so funny to most younger moviegoers? Do you think they're appropriate for young kids?
Why do you think soccer/football is such a popular sport around the world? What's the movie's message about the "sacred game"? Do you agree that a team shouldn't be a group of players who all think they're stars?
How would you describe Goona's role in the movie? Are female athletes usually given the same respect as male athletes in movies and TV shows?
- In theaters: February 16, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: May 22, 2018
- Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne
- Director: Nick Park
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, History
- Character strengths: Communication, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor and some action
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: December 10, 2020
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