Aardman Animations is arguably Britain’s most renowned animation studio – and, since its humble beginnings in 1972, has gained international acclaim for its stop-motion clay animation technique. Primarily famous for the much-loved Wallace and Gromit series, Aardman has also had critical and commercial success with the likes of Chicken Run, The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Shaun the Sheep.
The animation house have announced that their next feature film is titled Early Man, due for release in 2018, and takes place in the prehistoric era at the dawn of man. Directed by the revered Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run) and written by Mark Burton (Madagascar, Gnomeo and Juliet) and John O’Farrell, it had previously been announced that Eddie Redmayne would be playing the film’s protagonist, Dug.
Dug has now found his nemesis in the form of fellow British actor Tom Hiddleston, who will be joining the comedy’s cast in the capacity of main villain, as confirmed by Aardman Animations via Twitter (see below). Hiddleston is voicing/playing Lord Nooth, described as the greedy, pompous and tyrannical ruler of a Bronze Age settlement. The film’s plot will reportedly see Redmayne’s Dug attempt to unite his bickering tribe in an attempt to overthrow the evil leader and restore peace and prosperity to his town.
Hiddleston’s casting marks his most high-profile vocal performance to date – though the actor does have experience in voicing animated characters. In fact, he’s had small roles in Family Guy (as a Statue) and Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming Netflix series Trollhunters and also played a young Captain Hook in Disney’s straight-to-DVD movie, The Pirate Fairy. The actor is, of course, far more experienced at playing maniacal, ruthless dictator types, thanks largely to his ongoing role in the MCU as Loki.
At a time where animation studios, Aardman included, rely mainly on producing sequels to established and successful franchises, any attempt at an original feature is highly welcome. With Nick Park in the director’s chair and a modern, A-list cast beginning to assemble, Early Man seems to have all the ingredients to be a cinematic success.
With that said, Aardman’s movie output has suffered increasingly diminishing gross profits, despite consistant critical praise. Both The Pirates! and Shaun the Sheep gained positive reviews but struggled at the U.S. box office in comparison to the studio’s previous efforts. Aardman is now partnered with Studiocanal, having previously relied upon funding from Sony and DreamWorks, and as such, Early Man has a smaller budget to work with – of which Hiddleston and Redmayne’s castings are likely to have eaten up a decent chunk. Aardman’s two most successful ventures however, Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit were also produced on relatively modest budgets, proving that the studio can deliver without big bucks at their disposal. Hopefully, Early Man will continue that trend.
Early Man opens in U.K. theaters on January 26th 2018. A U.S. theatrical release date has not yet been announced.