Early Man

February 11, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams
Directed by: Nick Park (“Chicken Run”)
Written by: Mark Burton (“Shaun the Sheep Movie”) and James Higginson (debut)

Apart from a character like late comedian Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer on “Saturday Night Live” in the 1990s, most on-screen Neanderthals have been portrayed as doltish, uncivilized apemen for more than 100 years.

In Charlie Chaplin’s 1914 short silent film “His Prehistoric Past,” the iconic actor wears an animal skin toga and twirls around like a fool trying to win the heart of a pretty cavewoman in a grass skirt. More recently, the 2015 animated film “The Good Dinosaur” features a feral caveboy who sniffs around and bites things like a rabid chihuahua. If cavepeople still existed today, we’re sure they wouldn’t appreciate the stereotypes associated with them — from clubbing potential mates over the head to ultimately falling into a river of lava since their pea-sized brains can’t process the temperature of molten rock.

Sure, “Encino Man” gave the caveman movie subgenre some credit by transforming Brendan Fraser into an average California teenager, and Fred Flintstone benefited from modern-day conveniences like automobiles, telephones and even vending machines, but more often than not, cavemen have always been denied those few extra brain cells when it comes to movie and TV entertainment.

Such is the case once again with British director Nick Park’s newest stop-motion animated film “Early Man,” which follows a group of friendly primitive characters as they attempt to save their home from being taken over by a greedy monarch who wants to mine their land for ore. Park, best known as the creator of all things “Wallace & Gromit” and “Shaun the Sheep,” uses his distinctive claymation style to build a pleasant prehistoric world, but unlike the last two feature films he directed — 2000’s “Chicken Run” and 2005’s Oscar-winning “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” — “Early Man’s” script is lacking in creativity and unconventional ideas.

In fact, audiences might be gobsmacked to find out that “Early Man” is actually an underdog sports movie — and a mostly clichéd one at that. When Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) forces the cavepeople out of their valley, so he can dig up precious rock and turn it into bronze, the tribe decides the only way they can protect their homeland is to challenge the banana-nosed aristocrat to a soccer match (football for all you Brits), a sport Lord Nooth and his people consider a “sacred game.” Led by buck-toothed, pig-nosed, matted-haired caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and Goona (Maisie Williams), a ringer from inside Lord Nooth’s fortress, the two begin to train their ragtag team for a shot at victory.

As with many underdog sports movies that have come before, “Early Man” falls into a typical narrative where a meek and unathletic team relies on its heart to compete against a squad of arrogant professional footballers. The by-the-numbers storyline is disappointing considering how imaginative Park’s work has proven to be for the last 30 years at Britain’s Aardman Animations. Instead, the film struggles to make the humor consistent and falls back on things like anachronistic references and obvious ball puns.

“Early Man” feels like an animated movie that lost its way somewhere in the brainstorming process. There’s no denying the impressive, tangible product Aardman’s talented animators have put on screen. The growling dinosaur-sized duck and Dug’s scene-stealing wild pet pig Hognob are high points. But all the characters feel trapped inside a story that doesn’t belong to them. Park and Aardman might’ve made genre meshing work by turning “Chicken Run” into a prison-break action flick and “Were-Rabbit” into a mystery thriller, but constructing “Early Man” as a deadpan caveman version of 1995’s “The Big Green” knocks them back a couple of spots on the evolutionary chart.

Aliens in the Attic

August 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Carter Jenkins, Austin Butler, Ashley Tisdale
Directed by: John Schultz (“The Honeymooners”)
Written by: Mark Burton (“Madagascar”) and Adam F. Goldberg (“Fanboys”)

If these are the type of film projects the teens of the “High School Musical” franchise are going to get now that they’ve moved on from the series, things are bound to get uglier before they get better.

While Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens might still be bankable (“17 Again” was cliché drivel for Efron and we still have to see what Hudgens can do with her upcoming film “Bandslam”), an actress like Ashley Tisdale might find it a bit more difficult to earn roles much different that the tween-inspired ones she’s been doing for the last 12 years.

Nevertheless, her first attempt at breaking away from her character Sharpay Evans from the “Musical” movies is in the unimaginative family film “Aliens in the Attic.” In the film, Tisdale plays Bethany, one of the Pearson family clan who discovers their vacation lake house has been infiltrated by a small group of hostile aliens packing heat who want to enslave humans.

During their initial battle with the alien species, Bethany’s brother Tom (Carter Jenkins) and his cousins realize they have the upper hand when the electric plugs the aliens are shooting at them don’t have the same mind-control power on kids as they do on adults. Kids, supposedly, are “wired differently” explains one of the knee-high humans.

From here, we watch the entire Pearson family below the age of 18 try to keep the aliens from getting out of the attic and into the house where they can cause major damage especially since all the vulnerable parents (Kevin Nealon and Andy Richter plays dads; Doris Roberts plays the grandma) are downstairs (apparently wearing earplugs since no one ever hears the ruckus on the second and third floors).

Relying on generic-looking computer graphics, kids and aliens battle it out with fireworks and paintball guns for 86 minutes of boredom. Screenwriters Mark Burton (“Madagascar”) and Adam F. Goldberg (“Fanboys”) even fail at bringing a human element into the story by having the youngest of the Pearson children (Ashley Boettcher) befriending the one alien invader (she names him Snugglelumps) who seems to be a pacifist. Overall, it’s one the worst family films of the year.