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dir Nick Park
scr Mark Burton, James Higginson
prd Peter Lord, Nick Park, David Sproxton
with Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Rob Brydon, Timothy Spall, Miriam Margolyes, Richard Ayoade, Mark Williams, Kayvan Novak, Johnny Vegas, Selina Griffiths, Gina Yashere
release UK 26.Jan.18, US 16.Feb.18
18/UK StudioCanal 1h29
A new age is dawning: Hognog and Dug
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Blissfully silly, this stop-motion animated comedy may be set in prehistoric times, but its main target for satire is the modern world of football. The characters are perhaps not quite strong enough to make this a classic, but the comedy is nonstop, with a steady stream of visual and verbal gags that will keep grown-ups chuckling even if the youngsters get a bit bored.
In stone age England, Dug (Redmayne) is angered when his tribe is turfed out of their fertile valley by the snooty bronze-age Lord Nooth (Hiddleston). Accompanied by his sidekick warthog Hognob, Dug challenges Nooth's champion footballers to a match to get their valley back, and if they lose they'll have to work the mines. Dug's tribal chief (Spall) backs him up, and they begin training with the help of Goona (Williams), a bronze-age athlete annoyed that women aren't allowed to play. Meanwhile, Nooth is under pressure from his demanding queen (Margolyes) to win the match.
Aardman's clay figures are superb as usual, clearly from the same universe as Wallace and Gromit with their marble eyes, buck teeth and the animators' fingerprints on their plasticine skin. The film looks terrific, with a range of textures from fur and stone to shiny metal, and the fact that these are real models gives everything a sense of weight, although it also lets the seams show when something digital comes into frame.
The characters are all likeable. Dug and the cavemen are adorably bumbling, and the vocal cast adds plenty of witty charm. The more savvy members of the bronze civilisation are poncy and arrogant, villainous but ridiculously so. So there's never even a hint of doubt about who will win this battle. And special marks go to Brydon, who voices a range of colourful characters from Nooth's message bird to a pair of pun-tastic sports commentators.
It's all so happy and enjoyable that it's a shame there isn't much to it, aside from the usual "be yourself" and "work as a team" messages. None of the characters has as much pathos as Wallace or Gromit, so the film as a whole is rather forgettable. And the dialog is far too densely hilarious for small children in the audience to follow. That said, older viewers will enjoy the nonstop onslaught of playful observations and astute jokes, both in the animation and in the clever wordplay. So as a bit of diverting escapism, this does the trick.
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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