THE latest stop-motion claymation from Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep creators Aardman takes us on a fanciful reimagining of the point where the Stone and Bronze ages collided. And while far from their best work, it still provides the studio’s trademark charming visuals and good-natured chuckles born out of a thoroughly British sensibility.

Nick Park’s first officially directed feature since 2005’s Curse of the Were-Rabbit begins with a brief prologue that showcases how the dinosaurs became extinct after a meteor hits Earth. Somehow the humans survive (yes, in Aardman’s retelling they co-existed) and, upon discovering that the meteor is now ball-sized, they start to kick it around. And thus the game of football is created.

Things jump forward a few ages to the arrival of the Bronze Age where the Stone Age cavemen are living in a forest that has grown in the crater left by the meteor, land that Bronze Age Lord Nooth (voiced with a Monty Python-worthy heightened French accent by Tom Hiddleston) wants for himself.

In order to save his tribe’s homeland, plucky young Dug (Eddie Redmayne) challenges Lord Nooth’s Herculean all-star team to a one-off, winner-takes-all match. However, he’ll need more than the help of faithful Gromit-esque pig sidekick Hognob (voiced by Park himself). Eventually he enlists Goona (Maisie Williams), a local Bronze Age defector out to prove that girls can play football, too, despite her being banned from the pitch because of her gender.

Plot-wise it follows a fairly pedestrian path, essentially functioning as a familiar sports underdog story wrapped in prehistoric clothes. It all builds up to the inevitable big game – no prizes for guessing how it turns out – while some puntastic jokes like references to “Early Man United” give new definition to the term broad. But it’s in the hand-crafted, endearingly old-fashioned physicality where the film shines.

The idea of making a film by moving physical models millimetres at a time to capture a single second of footage might seem logically foolhardy in today’s CG-dominated animation world. Yet it’s the affectionately, meticulously hand-made quality (state-of-the-art silicon puppets are now purposefully made to look like thoroughly thumbed Plasticine) that gives all of Aardman’s work its charm – you can feel that love in every frame of Early Man.

A well-chosen voice cast that also includes Miriam Margolyes, Timothy Spall and Richard Ayoade bring a real sense of eccentric individuality to the characters; Rob Brydon’s ingeniously conceptualized Message Bird, a sort of prehistoric answering machine, is a real highlight. This is another likeable, affectionate family animation that benefits from the human touch.