Unlisted: Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

The closest the UK will ever have to a Pixar, and to be honest not that far off really, Bristol-based Aardman Animations have spent years toiling away at another masterpiece, this time based on the first in a series of ridiculous yet thoroughly entertaining books by British author Gideon Defoe. Just like Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and everything else Aardman has ever left a plasticine thumbprint on, Pirates is imbued with a timeless sense of humour in a world that almost – almost – makes sense, but is always hilarious.
We follow the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant on the finest form he’s been in years) and his rag-tag band of misfits (including Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson and Ashley Jensen) along with their definitely-not-a-parrot mascot Polly as they set out to win the much coveted Pirate of the Year award, against rivals Lenny Henry, Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven (whose voice really annoyed me as I couldn’t place it for the entire film). The only problem is… the Pirate Captain is a pretty useless pirate, with every plundering attempt ending in failure. Fortunately, a chance encounter with a repressed, desperate Charles Darwin (David Tennant) leads to all manner of escapades, including entering a scientific competition and a run-in with a furious Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton, half the cast are Harry Potter actors).
If I have to find a flaw, it’s that everything moves by so damn quickly. Every character is a brilliant creation, yet few are on screen long enough to fully appreciate them, and often the rapid progression of the plot gives a feeling that some jokes are left by the wayside, 88 minutes long is nowhere near enough, but one feels the animators are happier their wrists were not strained further. The one character who really should have more screen time is the scene-stealing, self-subtitling monkey.
Choose film 8/10

Chicken Run

The Great Escape, with chickens! For Aardman’s first feature length picture, Nick Park and his team borrowed heavily from a British classic, with the Hilts-esque Ginger (Julia Sawalha) and her Scottish accomplice Mac (thankfully not shot up against the fences) leading a brood of chickens to freedom after their tyrannical farmers make a switch from eggs to chicken pies. The parallels run deep, from the multiple escape attempts using homemade and stolen tools to a heavy American influence courtesy of Mel Gibson’s circus cockerel Rocky Rhodes, although I very much doubt that this was based on a true story. Other elements, from a Flight of the Phoenix inspired mechanical plane to a Raiders style hat gag (by law, every film featuring a vertically closing door must feature the hero sliding under it to safety, before reaching back to retrieve their fallen hat) all add to the fun, but I was annoyed at the farmers complete lack of concern that, not only were their hens wearing hats and scarves, but one of them was wearing glasses. Timothy Spall and Phil Daniel’s east end spiv rats were excellent additions too.
Choose film 7/10