Art & Culture

Is there a film studio in the world (or the UK, at least) more beloved of audiences than Bristol's very own Aardman Animation, who celebrate their 40th anniversary this year? No, not really. Which is why it's a pleasure to announce that this is their best full length film yet.

Granted, the competition isn't all it might be. Chicken Run, Flushed Away, Curse of the Wererabbit and Arthur Christmas are all pleasant and occasionally amusing, but perhaps a little overextended. There's a big difference between a snappy little 28 minute Wallace & Gromit film packed full of great gags, and something three times that long which has to keep our attention throughout. Pirates (to use an abbreviated version of the lengthy title) manages the running time much more successfully, and maintains its energy from start to finish.

Hugh Grant (sounding more like Hugh Laurie than himself) is The Pirate Captain, a perennially optimistic sea dog who unfortunately happens to be a bit short in the IQ department. He leads a motley crew, followed by his faithful Number Two (Martin Freeman) who tolerates his captain's idiocies, while forever trying in vain to steer him towards more sensible decisions. But all the men (one of whom is in fact a woman) are behind the Captain in his determination to win the Pirate of the Year contest, which is judged by the quantity of booty the entrants have collected.

The problem is that The PC (Pirate Captain) has no booty, and shows no signs of acquiring any, since the ships he stops are manned by (respectively) lepers, naturists, and a school outing. It's enough to make a man give it all up. Finally they hijack a ship with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) on board, and the inevitable lack of gold doubloons adds to The PC's sense of being Doomed By Fate. But when Darwin points out that the PC's parrot is in fact a dodo, a member of an extinct species and therefore valuable beyond price, it does seem as if his luck has turned.

Darwin turns out not be an entirely trustworthy ally, but not half as bad as their subsequent arch enemy, whose identity may be something of a surprise. Let me just say that if you have any old coins, you may find her image on one side. This is all excuse for a lot of chases, which have been the hallmark of Aardman excellence since they first began. They are almost invariably exciting, funny, imaginative and well choreographed. There's one in Darwin's house, another through the streets of London and finally one on board a steam yacht. All good rollicking stuff.

There are all sorts of anachronistic gags and references, in a plot that includes Darwin's pet monkey, Jane Austen and The Elephant Man, and it would be tedious and annoying of me to repeat them here as some critics love to do. The best thing is to go and see the film, and see them fresh. The advantage of TP!IAAWS – to give it its full acronym – is that it will be as much fun for children as for adults. So you can go on your own, or else take kids over half term, and be sure that everyone will have a good time. And you can't say that about most children's films.


By Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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