A rare miss from ‘Wallace and Gromit’ creator Nick Park

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“Early Man” is a throwback in more ways than one.

The film is set in ancient times, at the dawn of the Bronze Age, around 3,000 years B.C. And it uses an antiquated stop motion style that, in comparison to today’s ultra-modern computer animation, is downright prehistoric in comparison.

Directed by Nick Park, creator of the charming “Wallace & Gromit” series, “Early Man” is lovingly crafted down to the smallest detail. But its story, a farcical tribute to the early origins of soccer, isn’t nearly as sturdy as its presentation.

Dug (voice of Eddie Redmayne) is a young caveman who discovers, through cave drawings, that his elder tribesmen were gifted soccer players since the beginning of man. When he finds himself in the midst of a group of gilded Bronze Age bullies, he challenges them to a soccer match in which his primitive tribe is way outclassed. But through teamwork they will learn to triumph, etc.

The framework is recognizable from a thousand stories about scrappy underdogs taking on experienced, conceited veterans. You expect Park — directing his first film since 2005’s “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (his production company, Aardman Animations, made “Shaun the Sheep” in 2015) — to fill in the story gaps, but where he packs the frames with inside jokes and witty references, much of the humor falls as flat as a deflated soccer ball.

There is a human touch missing from super-slick animation, and at points thumbprints are visible on characters, evidence of the film’s hand-crafted style. But for everyone but soccer superfans, “Early Man” feels primitive.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

‘Early Man’

GRADE: C

Rated PG for rude humor and some action

Running time: 89 minutes

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