Soccer – or football if you prefer – was first played in 1863, right? Pah, what would Wikipedia know? Aardman are here to set the story straight, as it was invented by – and played by – cavemen. Early Man proves it!

It all started when an asteroid and the Earth met with a mighty molten “THUD!”. Our cave-dwelling types weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed – after all, tools hadn’t really been invented yet, let alone sheds – so they picked up the burning round remnant of invading alien rock and realised, well, ouch! So they dropped it. It burnt their feet, so they kicked it on… You get the drift.

Move on many years to the Stone Age, and a familiar-looking crater is now inhabited by a tribe who have a decidedly risk-averse leader. Why hunt mammoth when bunnies are easier? But young Dug (Eddie Redmayne) is an ideas caveman, and is continually trying to broaden his peoples’ horizons.

Ooh, it’s pointy!

Dug’s ingenuity is most definitely required when the Bronze Age invades with an almighty bang, bringing with it fancy uniforms, fancy stadiums and a fancy eviction notice from lousy Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). In a fit of pique Dug makes a wager with the imperious imbecile that, if he and his tribe win a game of soccer against The Bronze Age’s finest, then the cavepeeps get to keep their home.

Sadly, however, there’s no primitive ancestral muscle memory throbbing away within these caveguys, and they completely suck at soccer. But when a city-dwelling chick with mad ball skills named Goona (Maisie Williams), who’s justifiably angry at not being allowed to play because she’s a girl, gets onboard with Dug and friends (be they human or otherwise), they all may just get their kit together.

Early Man

If you can’t guess what happens from hereon then you’ve never seen a movie, let alone a kids’ one. But as with all tales, it’s how we get there that matters – and Aardman are master storytellers. They also excel at characterisation, and from Dug’s tribal bros to animals such as Dug’s piggy mate Hognob (who, dare we suggest, makes a great Beck-ham?) through to the various vainglorious Bronze Age players and commentators Brian and Bryan, they’re all keepers. Well, save for the ones who play other positions…

Then there’s their flair for puns, Monty Python-esque madness, nods to classic commentary and dad jokes that you can’t help but giggle – or at least groan – at. Some might even risk being thumped and say that it’s pitch perfect.

That’s not cricket, Brian! Whatever cricket is.

However, while the stop-motion animation delights, and the underdog story pulls the right strings, the tale is really rather slight. It also very much helps your ability to get gags if you have a passing knowledge of soccer, as it dominates proceedings more than the advertising suggests.

Early Man is no Shaun the Sheep Movie – an instant Aardman classic – but kids and adults alike will have a ball, as myriad gags lob in both directions. Plus, for no apparent reason, there’s one awesome, seriously big duck – which we christened a “well ‘ard mallard”. Now, if you don’t want to red card us for dropping that fow- erm, foul – gag, you’re going to love Early Man.

In cinemas: March 29, 2018 (VIC, QLD), April 12, 2018 (national)
Starring: The voices of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams
Directed by: Nick Park