Early Man: Caveman tactics hit the crossbar
In the three decades since Wallace and Gromit blasted off to a moon made of cheese, Aardman Animations has charmed us with a menagerie of unforgettable stop-motion creations.
In Early Man, the Bristol-based studio turns back the clock for a charming comedy of errors that traces the history of football to our club-wielding prehistoric ancestors.
The beautiful game turns exceedingly ugly in a knockabout script which scores a couple of own-goals with groansome puns.
A prologue set in the Neo-Pleistocene era "near Manchester, around lunchtime" heralds the extinction of quarrelsome dinosaurs and primitive humans in the blast from a falling flame-licked meteor.
New life sprouts from the scorched earth, creating a valley of lush vegetation where Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) and his caveman tribe hunt floppy-eared rabbits in blissful isolation. The prehistoric posse includes Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his porcine pet Hognob, Asbo (Johnny Vegas), Treebor (Richard Ayoade), Barry (Mark Williams) and his inanimate best friend Mr Rock. Greedy Bronze Age tyrant Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) gatecrashes the idyll with armoured troops. Dug is carted back to Nooth's stronghold where he witnesses footballers Real Bronzio in gravity-defying motion.
Cave paintings suggest Dug's bloodline were the star strikers, defenders and goalkeepers of a bygone era. Emboldened by this revelation and the support of pretty saucepan vendor Goona (Maisie Williams), Dug publicly challenges Nooth's arrogant superstars to a match for control of the valley.
Redmayne's vocal performance brings sweetness and vulnerability to his hirsute hero, while Hiddleston mangles vowels with villainous glee for the most exaggerated French accent since Monty Python And The Holy Grail. The script runs out of puff in the second half and lacks some of the inventiveness and eccentricity that have distinguished earlier pictures. Regardless, Park's meticulously hand-crafted romp should score big with family audiences in the run up to this summer's World Cup.