FEBRUARY 16, 2018 -- Aardman Studios finally gets around to making the movie they intended to make years ago right after the release of "Flushed away in 2006. They envisioned an animated film about cavemen that was tentatively titled "Crood Awakening". But that was when they were under the Dreamworks umbrella and before the split. Dreamworks dumped Aardman and kept the rights to the caveman flick...which was finally released as "The Croods".


"Flushed Away" was Aardman's first film using computer animation as opposed to their familiar claymation stop-motion animation. It cost over $149 million to develop "Flushed Away" as $30-45 million it cost to produce "Chicken Run" and "Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Ware Rabbit". With it only earning $64 million in the US, Dreamworks and Aardman choked on a huge loss.


Aardman returned to claymation and less cost overrun. Moreover, under the helm of Nick Park they are finally releasing their caveman movie. "Early Man" revolves around an early Neanderthal named Dug (Eddie Redmayne), his pet boar Hognob (grunts and snorts provided Park) and his hunter/gatherer tribe of Neanderthals living in preshitoric Manchester England. They spend a great deal of tiume hunting rabbits - rather this one rare rabbit. What Dug and his villagers don't realize is that they are the last of their kind.

They find this out soon enough when their area is invaded, as it were, by a larger tribe of modern men from the bronze age led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), an arrogant chap with a heavy French accent. They have come to take the fertile area as their and dispatch the Neanderthals. The method of challenge is a rousing game of football (soccer), agame at which the Bronze age chaps are very adept.


Dug and his tribe accept the challenge because they suddenly realize they invented the game. Of course, they don't remember how to play it. They get some help from Goona (Maisie Williams) who is a bronze ager woman who has been put off by her tribes mysogenistic ways. In other words woman can't play. So she flips sides to help Dug and his people get up to speed on the intricacies of the game.


In between are non-stop gags and quips that if strung together more coherently would have improved the film greatly. As it is director Park did very little in character development, unlike his hugely successful "Chicken Run" and "Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Ware Rabbit" films.


The lack of better nuanced characters does detract too much from the charm presented by the claymation. There is something particularly appealing about the flaws of the stop-motion and the flaws of the characters; especially Dug and Hognob. Children will especially get a kick out the characters' silliness; and they are quite silly.


It is unlikely that the film will come close to matching the success of Dreamworks' "The Crood", but it will probably sustain a decent global profit off Aardman's $50 million budget.


"Early Man" is far from Aardman's best work, but it is still very watchable and will definitely garner a few laughs from both children and adults.   -- GRADE B- --   GEOFF BURTON