The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists, Peter Lord (U)
Wrath of the Titans, Jonathan Liebesman, (12A)

Avast me hearties! It's Hugh Grant, a dodo, and treasure in every frame

Sometimes the thing you do first is the thing you do best. With its fifth feature-length film, Aardman Animations has returned to stop-motion animation and Plasticine model-making: painstaking processes concomitant with a high level of attention to detail. And this is the main reason why The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists feels like a return to form.

There's treasure buried in its every frame. In fact, although it's churlish to complain, one's attention is sometimes distracted from whatever precision-timed gag or swashbuckling action is occurring in the foreground by the wealth of jokes tucked away in the background. (Keep an eye out for the sample jars aboard the Beagle, or the street signs when the action is back on dry land. In fact, if you like puns, keep an eye out for any and every bit of writing, be it label, newspaper headline, menu item or that sign for Napoleon Blownapart's dynamite and gunpowder supplies.)

The film's 19th-century pirate captain hero, who is called the Pirate Captain and voiced by Hugh Grant, is in the same tradition of endearingly enthusiastic amateurs as previous of the studio's creations, including Wallace, of "... & Gromit" fame, and Arthur Christmas, from last year's digitally generated and disappointingly conventional Christmas film of the same name.

There seems little danger of the Pirate Captain ever winning the Pirate of the Year award he covets: the reward for his capture is a measly 12 doubloons and a free pen; one of his crew members is actually a fish that he's dressed up in a hat; and the ship's mascot, Polly, isn't even a parrot. She's a dodo. But this last fact might actually be the Pirate Captain's making, once he boards the Beagle and the young Charles Darwin (David Tennant) suggests that presenting the presumed extinct bird to the Royal Society would yield fame and riches.

As well as that very specific sense of humour that characterises Aardman productions (it is somehow exactly right that one of the pirates should sport a Blue Peter badge, for example), Pirates! has an invigorating new irreverence – presumably a product of the imagination of Gideon Defoe, who originally wrote and then adapted the source novels. Darwin, for example, is a geeky and callow virgin, who is frequently outsmarted by his trained chimpanzee butler, and is driven to act less by a thirst for knowledge than in the forlorn hope of ever impressing a woman. "I'll never get a girlfriend," he confides to his journal.

The empire-building Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), meanwhile, is the dastardly and megalomaniacal Bond-style villain of the piece, complete with mechanical undergarments and booby-trapped underground lair.

As one cheerfully dim pirate is heard to exclaim: "This is our most educational adventure ever!"

More historical, or at least mythological, characters are ill-done-to in Wrath of the Titans, a streamlined, all-action sequel to and improvement on 2010's Clash of the Titans remake. Sam Worthington returns as Perseus, who had previously hung up his sword but is persuaded to hold it back aloft and mount a rescue mission to the underworld in order to save his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) from his uncle, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), and the universe from destruction at the hands of the Titans.

It is not a good film, by any measure other than that of the animators' advanced techniques and skill. It is set in uncharted landscapes where there be dragons, hydra and cyclopses – or, more accurately, cyclopes – and with the exception of the actors and their costumes, I doubt that a single element of the production ever existed outside the digital realm. And yet, on the giant Imax screen on which I saw it, at least, the molten rock of Tartarus, beneath the underworld, looked real. The giant – and I do mean giant – cyclopes not only looked real but as though they were in the same place in time and space as Perseus, instead of painted on a green screen at a later date.

There was a time when people believed figures such as Zeus and Perseus really existed, and perhaps they even believed in flying horses and one-eyed giants. Strangely, in their 2012 incarnations, it's the animated monsters that seem the most believably alive, while the figures played by humans are dull and characterless archetypes.

 

Next week

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick