From Wallace and Gromit to Chicken Run, Aardman has delivered some of our favourite animated classics of all time. It has been almost three years since we were last treated to a new Aardman release, with Shaun the Sheep back in February 2015. But now the wait is almost over as Early Man hits screens in just a few weeks' time.
Since its first motion picture release in 2000, Aardman has consistently surprised us, with each and every one of its releases bringing something new to the table. We’re taking a look at five key things that make Aardman movies a consistent success.
1. An impressive voice cast
For Aardman it's vital to cast A-listers with distinctive and dexterous voices – all the better to bring their memorably quirky characters to life. They have past form in this area, from Mel Gibson in Chicken Run to Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet in Flushed Away and James McAvoy and Bill Nighy in Arthur Christmas.
Early Man also has a very impressive cast list, with Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts), Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok) and Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) taking on the roles of heroic Dug, villainous Lord Nooth and sidekick Goona, respectively.
2. Relatable characters
Aardman specialises in stories about the underdog. From Roddy in Flushed Away to Shaun in Shaun the Sheep, every one of its lead characters is someone worth rooting for.
The most relatable characters are always going to be the ones that we can see a little bit of ourselves in, and Aardman has perfected this over the years. Take Wallace and Gromit as an example: who can't relate to the endearing friendship between one man and his dog, particularly when the scenario is flipped and the dog is often the smarter one?
As for Early Man, sure it might be set in prehistoric times, but we can still recognise Dug’s underdog heroism as he attempts to save his tribe from the rampaging Bronze Age hordes of the tyrannical Lord Nooth.
3. A heartwarming story
You might not think stories about sheep or chickens would get us emotionally invested, yet that's exactly what happens. Aardman understands how to craft stories in a way that delivers a heartwarming message for us all.
Going into each movie you wouldn’t necessarily expect to become so invested in the lives of these characters, but looking further into the message of each one, it becomes clear why so many of these films have become so well-loved since their release. For example, who can resist the story of chickens looking to fly the coop and escape a pie-making machine in Chicken Run? It's essentially The Great Escape but with our feathered friends, the kind of delightfully loopy premise that hooks an audience in.
4. Nick Park and his team
Since he joined Aardman back in 1985, Nick Park has been a strong player in all of their motion pictures. He's the creator of the studio's signature characters Wallace and Gromit, and with films including Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit to his name, it is clear to see why Park is so respected within the company.
Having stepped aside for recent films The Pirates! and Shaun the Sheep, Park is back as director for Early Man, and he's co-written the script alongside fellow Aardman Mark Burton, who scripted The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. With such a high calibre of workers behind this film, we’re optimistic that Early Man will be one of Aardman's best releases to date.
5. They stick to their animation roots
As technology has advanced, it's inevitable that animated movies have had to adapt too. Aardman is no stranger to this, having released its first CGI animated picture in 2006 with Flushed Away.
However, one of the company's best-loved aspects is its use of stop motion (frame by frame animation, creating the illusion of movement), and this has remained a consistent part of its productions.
With Chicken Run still holding the record as highest-grossing stop-motion picture of all time, and most of its other releases sticking to the delightful claymation format, it is clear to see why Aardman is so happy to stick to its roots.
And while Aardman will inevitably continue to evolve over time, we remain hopeful that stop motion will always be a key component of the studio's creations.
Hannah Dixon is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.