You expect a lot of very specific things from a new Aardman film. A wry, northern British sensibility. A constant stream of thinly-veiled movie homages. English actors doing funny voices. But, above all, you expect easter eggs. Early Man, the new film from Nick Park about a Stone Age tribe going up against the Bronze Age, has all of this in rocky spades. The plot centers on football, is clearly influenced by a range of classic films, makes perfect use of the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, and even Richard Ayoade, and there are so many background winks and gags it's near impossible to spot them all.
Fortunately, we're here to help. Here's a collection of every awesome easter egg, reference or background gag that you (probably) missed in Early Man.
Stonehenge's REAL Origins
One of the biggest mysteries of early man is the creation of Stonehenge. How were these giant rock structures created and, perhaps more confoundingly, why? The generally accepted truth is that it's some form of pagan worship of the Solstice, but Early Man posits an alternate theory: they're goalposts for prehistoric football games played with the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs. There's no explanation for the method of creation, and the sport driven idea may be a bit illogical, but at least it's better than aliens.
Nick Park Really Loves Rabbits
Nick Park seems to have a thing for rabbits. Maybe he had one as a child, maybe they're just fun to make out of plasticine, but they formed the backbone of the feature-length adventure for Wallace and Gromit, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. And they have a presence in his 13-years-later follow-up, Early Man: rabbits are the object of the tribe's hunger, with them starting out hunting a particularly mischievous one, who keeps recurring throughout the film and even gets the last laugh.
This isn't the only animal gag in the film. Early on there's also a sabretooth badger, a dry twist on the usual prehistoric monsters. Later, in the Bronze town, a zebra crossing is made using a zebra pelt.
Nick Park's Cameo
Nick Park has provided a handful of voices in Aardman films before, but they're typically background roles. In Early Man, he enters the big leagues, voicing Dug's faithful sabertoothed pig Hognob (a name based on the famed British biscuit). As Screen Rant learned on our set visit to Aardman, this started as a placeholder, but evidently stuck around. Just because this is his first credited role doesn't mean Park's a slouch when it comes to voice acting. When talking to Eddie Redmayne, he revealed to us, "the thing about Nick you’ve got to realize is he can basically voice every single character better than anyone." Who needs actors?
Watch: Early Man's Official Trailer
Flintstones Stone Age Tech
Most people can't think prehistoric without thinking The Flintstones, and apparently that's true of Nick Park. Early Man is full of creative uses of animals as stone age approximations of modern technology, especially early on, which feels like a clear honoring of the Hanna-Barbera classic. A highlight is the beetle shaver, and there's sure to be many more hidden throughout the film.
Movie Reference Shops
The Bronze Age town is an absolute treasure trove of easter eggs, and perhaps the most fun are the signs of various vendors that serve as cheeky references - either gags or to movies. Pun-wise most noticeable is Wart's Removals, a moving service from an unfortunately-named businessman. Even better are the movie nods. Goona's store is called Flint Eastwood after the famed actor/director/chair-talker, while in the background is a butcher's called Jurassic Pork (although that's not the best dinosaur joke in the film, as we'll shortly see).
Gladiator (Among Many Other Call-Outs)
There's a lot of inspirations for Early Man (some we're still to get to), but a few really jump to mind in the main plot. The entire football-based plot rings quite close to World War II classic Escape to Victory, although what the film really owes a debt to is Gladiator: the entire arena showdown for freedom is a direct lift, and having the villain come down into the fray for the final "battle" (Nooth steps in as referee) is straight-up Commodus. This isn't overreading either: Nick Park revealed as much when we sat down with him to discuss the film (full interview coming soon).
So Many Football References It's Unreal
While Aardman has never shied away from overbearing Englishness, in its final sequence Early Man really takes the cake. The final football match is full of references to not only tropes of the beautiful game, but specifics to the sport's culture. The commentators (both played by Rob Brydon) are clearly inspired by retired icons Des Lynam and Alan Hansen, the rival team are singled out as true villains by their propensity for overdramatic diving, and crowd chants are totally authentic. There's specific reference to the World Cup: the championship award looks exactly like the competition's current trophy, and perhaps more gleefully, the "they think it's all over" commentary as the cave men win is - naturally - a direct lift from when England won the Cup.
Although the best nod may be the most simple. At the very start of the film, we find out the entire film is taking place around Manchester, home of titans Manchester City and United who share a rivalry almost as fierce as that as their ancestors in the film.
The Ray Harryhausen Tribute
The best easter egg in the film, however, is saved for last. Absolute last. While Early Man doesn't have a post-credits scene per se, what it does have is an affectionate tribute to one of stop-motion animation's true legends. At the end of the scroll, the two dinosaurs - a Ceratosaurus and a triceratops - seen scuffling in the pre-meteor opening are revealed to be called "Ray" and "Harry", an oblique nod to Ray Harryhausen. The man behind classics from Jason and the Argonauts to Clash of the Titans - and, of course, 1 Million Years BC - Harryhausen is a hero of Park's and so it was only natural he'd sneak in a reference into one of his films eventually.
- Early Man (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018