This is a rare event for me – seeing two films at the cinema within a matter of weeks of each other, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed two films I actually wanted to experience theatrically within such a short space of time – but since seeing the trailer for this movie a month or so prior to its release I have been longing to see it. It was obviously an Aardman production (no one does claymation quite like Aardman) but by the evidence of the trailer the style of this film was quite different from their previous outings. The humour was a bit zippier and the main character had an irreverence and a dandy foppish-ness that was quite unlike the characters in their other films. I admired them for this change of direction – it looked like they had ditched the twee English understatement and replaced it with a rollicking, devil-may-care attitude, driven along by a punky soundtrack. I was so excited about this film, and as it was Aardman’s first foray into 3D, I paid extra to see it. Not that 3D is particularly worth the extra money, I just thought that I would take advantage of seeing a few films in 3D on the ‘big’ screen while this latest fad lasted – incase I had to wait sixty years before it becomes a novelty again!
The story is essentially about a non-threatening, vain and unlucky, third-rate pirate captain wanting to win the annual Pirate of the Year Award, but who’s up against a couple of flashy, full-blooded, professional pirates that laugh at the very idea of it. The plot also involves the Captain’s loyal crew, his parrot (which is in fact the last existing Dodo), a pirate-hating Queen Victoria, The Royal Society, Charles Darwin and his chimpanzee butler.
To say that I was disappointed would not be an overstatement – it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the film, I just felt I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. I really wanted to like this film and I did to a certain extent, but nowhere near as much as I had hoped. I wanted to snigger, laugh even – but I didn’t. An old chap in the row behind me laughed, increasingly as the film progressed – but I didn’t. Maybe I simply wasn’t prepared for this new direction, not quite tuned into the unfamiliar style – or maybe it just wasn’t that funny. To be honest the studio made a fatal error, and one that really annoys the hell out of me – of putting all the best bits in the trailer. Please, oh please, leave me something great in the movie that I haven’t already seen! Yes there were stunning set-pieces – like Queen Victoria showing off her fighting skills and the sinking of the QV1 (Queen Victoria’s royal steamship) – but I didn’t want to sit there appreciating the effort that had gone into making the film, I wanted to laugh, properly laugh, and I didn’t. When the Pirate Captain was raiding other ships, a genuinely funny episode – the leper ship, the ghost ship and the ship on a geography field trip – I’d already laughed at the trailer.
I cannot fault the technically stunning use of plasticine, the unbelievably detailed sets and the abilities of all the voice actors (including Hugh Grant as the Pirate Captain) – if only the script was a notch or two higher in its humour quotient. It was directed by Peter Lord, who had previously directed Chicken Run, but like Chicken Run it still hasn’t matched the first three Wallace and Gromit films for their originality, comedic content and ability to capture an audience. The train track sequence in The Wrong Trousers was pure genius and possibly too high a mark for them to ever come close to again.
It is a brave and potentially fantastic new route for Aardman films to experiment with, but as yet, on the evidence of a first viewing (which can be notoriously inaccurate) they have not got the balance right – unfortunately I did not get that warm feeling I mentioned in my previous post. Maybe seeing it again would improve my impression of this film, and maybe I am being a little too harsh, my expectations set too high – it is certainly not a bad film – it simply did not match its potential. The humour was there, but as far as I was concerned it was far too thin, there was not enough of it and what was there was applied with too light a touch. Who knows, when it comes round on TV in the holidays I’ll see it in a different light, gain more satisfaction and find that it was actually a better film than my current impression suggests – I certainly hope so.