Aardman’s Clay: The Pirates! Band of Misfits/In an Adventure with Scientists

Rating: 7/10

Plot: The Pirate Captain is a bit of a bumbling chap. While he adores life on the seas with his crew and all of the adventures they have, he’s not the best at his job. He yearns to be Pirate of the Year, but he’s considered a joke among the other pirates in the community. While trying to attack more ships to gain a better reputation, he comes upon the research ship of Charles Darwin, who is incredibly interested in the captain’s beloved ‘parrot’ Polly. Turns out, she’s actually an extremely rare dodo bird – last of its kind.

Charles wants the bird to be world-renowned in the world of science (and be successful enough to get a girlfriend) and the Pirate Captain believes presenting the bird will make him a lot of money and give him recognition. He won’t give Polly over since she’s one of the family, but when the world sees you as a loser, you’re sometimes willing to sacrifice family for a taste of fame and respect.

Breakdown: This is the first time Aardman has really failed to engage me as well as it usually does.

That’s not to say The Pirates! is a bad movie in the slightest, it’s just rather predictable and a little blah for Aardman. After about the first 15 minutes, I knew almost exactly where the movie would go beat by beat. The only thing that caught me a little off-guard was the climax but only because I didn’t think people would be so stupid as have a competition to see who can find the rarest animal to cook and eat – and that the royal figures of the world were the ones holding it.

Cleverness abounds with the jokes. Aardman is never really a disappointment there. I especially enjoyed every shot with Mr. Bobo, Darwin’s mute monkey assistant who speaks in flashcards. And I did enjoy the relationship between The Pirate Captain and his first mate, Number 2 (Hardly anyone has an actual name)

I just can’t see myself wanting to watch this again anytime soon. It never clicked me on that level of pure enjoyment. It was especially a chore to watch them go undercover to present Polly to the scientist award committee and Captain try to pretend everything’s fine at the Pirate of the Year awards. We just got done with a movie with similar themes, and I don’t much care for it in the first place.

I also had to roll my eyes because, of course, the one prominent female pirate is a flirty sexpot that everyone wants to get with. She’s not a big part of the movie, but it still irked me.

(And, yes, I’m aware of the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate.)

In regards to the art and animation, I love the way they melded regular stop-motion with CG. It flowed extremely well, and some of the shots on the sea were quite beautiful. The character models are better than usual because they don’t fall into the ‘I’m always showing all of my giant teeth at all times’ habit they were wrapped up in for a long time. The style as a whole is different, if only slightly, and it’s a bit of a nice breath of fresh air.

The music is slightly out of place sometimes. The score is usually fairly good, but then they insert modern songs and it feels off. They’re not pop songs, but they still don’t fit that well, in my opinion.

All in all, this is a fun movie and I think everyone should give it at least one watch, but it’s not Aardman’s A game.

Recommended Audience: There is mild violence, these are pirates afterall, some dark themes like implied torture and execution. No nudity or sex, but a couple of very mild swears. 10+


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Aardman’s Clay: Flushed Away (2006) Review

Rating: 7.5/10

Plot: Roddy the rat seemingly lives the high life. He has a mansion of a cage in his mansion of a house, he eats well, pampers himself and never misses an opportunity to have some fun. The one problem is that he is terribly lonely. When his owner isn’t around, he pretends that he has a lavish social life, but ultimately realizes that he’s all alone most of the time.

A sewer rat named Sid suddenly invades his house through the pipes. He’s loud, gross and forcibly makes himself at home while simultaneously destroying the house. While Roddy is lonely, he’s not lonely enough to want him for company, so he tries to trick him back into the sewer through the toilet only to be knocked into the bowl and flushed away by Sid.

Now lost in a sewer, Roddy finds himself in a massive underground city for rats. He wants nothing more than to get back home, and in his efforts to do so he meets Rita, a rough and tumble rat who is being harassed by The Toad, who wants to steal her father’s precious ruby. However, he has much more nefarious plans outside of a little ruby.

Breakdown: Flushed Away tends to get shit on a lot. That’s my lone potty humor joke of the review. I’m sorry.

However, I have noticed that most of the time when this movie gets slighted, it’s in passing. Some reviewer will bring this movie up randomly as being terrible when talking about something else. Because of that, I was dreading this review. However, I realized that I’ve never bothered to go and read a full review of this movie, which I didn’t bother to do until I had nearly finished the movie because I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than I expected, so I was wondering why the movie got such a bad rep.

What I found was mixed but mostly positive, with the main issue the reviewers were having with the movie being the exact same one I had.

I’d almost believe this movie was a punchline for many people based solely on the main plot and the title yet didn’t actually watch this movie or give it a chance.

Let me start off with the positive. The humor in this movie is top-notch. Despite the title, there’s very little in regards to toilet humor, and so many of the gags, even the running ones, work so well that I found myself laughing out loud numerous times, which is a difficult goal to accomplish with me.

I particularly enjoyed the running gag of the slugs, which easily could’ve been one of the most annoying things in this movie, but were hilarious every time they were on screen. I also loved the legion of frogs under Le Frog’s command. The mime frog in particular was a riot.

There are some groan-worthy jokes, and some slightly offensive-ish jokes like the French frogs immediately surrendering or the American rat being gross and rowdy, not understanding that the World Cup is soccer, not American football, but these were few and far between.

Also, despite the fact that Aardman switched to a CGI format for this movie, it still very clearly holds the traditional Aardman claymation aesthetics. And yes, you get the unreasonably large always-grinning mouths. The animation really doesn’t suffer due to this change of format, in fact, it kinda benefits in the area of freedom of movement, and considering the massive world they had to animate, plus the added complication of water, I fully understand why they went this route. Plus, with movies like Arthur Christmas under their belt now, we know that Aardman definitely has talent in the CGI world.

The voice work was also quite good with Hugh Jackman voicing Roddy, Kate Winslet voicing Rita and Ian McKellen voicing The Toad.

Now onto the negatives. While the villain characters had their funny quirks, the protagonists are rather cut and dry.

You have Roddy, our main lead, who is basically any fish out of water (or rat out of cage?) story. He’s miserable in his current life, is thrown into a new one that he initially dislikes, he longs to go home but his adventure getting back shows him that a life in the other place is much better and chooses to live there forever.

Reviewers kept bringing up that Roddy was meant to be parodying James Bond, and, I’m sorry, I don’t get it. He does dress up in a tuxedo, briefly parody James Bond and watch a spy movie at the start, but that’s it. Outside of having a villain to fight and going on an action adventure, there’s nothing else to imply a connection to James Bond.

Then you have Rita, the ‘I’m defying gender stereotypes’ clear love interest. She does more to move the plot along than Roddy does, and she’s kinda badass, but she doesn’t do much to differentiate herself from a trope that, ironically, is trying to escape a trope.

Being fair, neither character is unlikable in the slightest, which is an easy pitfall for characters like this. Rita starts out as a bit abrasive, and Roddy has his selfish and kinda jerkish moments, but these are usually justified in some way.

Sid is somehow turned into a good guy out of nowhere in the third act, even though he started as one of the grossest, dumbest, rowdiest dill holes I’ve ever seen. Also, he tried to kill Roddy in the first act, so what the hell?

The weakest area of this movie, however, is in the story. It’s just….not all that good. It’s boringly cliché at best and stupid at worst. This is definitely one of those movies that’s good because of its parts not the sum of its whole.

While we have a ton of great quick gags that more than make the movie worth watching, as well as a bunch of action that is fun to watch, when the movie slows down and reminds you of the plot, it loses your attention badly. The plot with Roddy is so predictable it practically hurts. Just by reading the synopsis, you can tell EXACTLY what will happen.

The one facet of his story that I was wondering about is if he’d really be willing to leave his owner, because even though we only get little snippets of his owner, a little girl named Tabitha, she takes great care of him and seems to love him a lot. I’d feel bad for her knowing Roddy would just up and leave her for a life in the sewers.

This is where Sid comes in because after he suddenly heel turns in the third act, Roddy leaves him to be Tabitha’s new pet. Sid promises he’ll be good to her, but you can’t trust this guy. He tried to kill Roddy earlier. He also basically destroyed the house by making a massive mess. Not to mention, this is a damn sewer rat. A filthy, stinky, fat sewer rat.

Do you honestly believe 1) She’d be fooled into thinking this is Roddy? (Spoiler alert: She is, somehow. So either she’s an idiot (she even ignores the massive mess around him) or she really cares so little about Roddy that she can’t tell him apart from any other rat, which doesn’t mesh from what little we know about her.)

2) If she doesn’t, that she’d be cool with losing Roddy forever and just adopting this new rat?

And 3) that her rich, pristine parents or even Tabitha herself would be cool with her adopting a disgusting, smelly sewer rat that infiltrated their house while they were away?

He does kinda get comeuppance in the end, but eh. I’m quite certain nothing actually bad would happen to him, but….again, eh.

On the…I guess we’ll call it the ‘James Bond’ plot, we have a story that’s both kinda dark and silly/immature at the same time.

The main villain here is The Toad, and I’m not being lazy, that’s his name. His big plan is to commit genocide against all the rats in the city by opening the sewer flood gates during half time of the World Cup, which is when thousands of people will all flush at the same time. All of the rats will drown in a tidal wave of piss water while the frogs and toads take over the city and he can repopulate with a massive collection of tadpoles that he…somehow created by himself?

See what I meant about being dark but also really silly/immature? Roddy and Rita got tangled in this mess when they both got captured by his men in an effort to retrieve a ruby Rita’s father passed down to her. The Toad believed it was his, she stole it back, so he hunted her down and took it back. In their escape from The Toad, they steal the master cable, which is necessary for this plan to work, so then he starts chasing them for that.

I will mention that, while the ruby is ultimately not very important to the overall plot, it did lead to the one story element that actually surprised me a good deal, but I won’t spoil it.

Overall, this movie is a truckload of really good gags with a decent amount of solid action piled on top of two stories that just don’t hold up very well. It could be a lot worse, it’s more like all the good stuff is sitting on cheap plywood more than wet toilet paper, but I was certainly waiting for the next gag to come along whenever the plot started to slow down. The first act in particular was a bit of a chore to get through.

Not to mention, they felt the need to include a small bit where Roddy lies about his situation to Rita and tries to pretend his life is fine, which was painful to watch for all the wrong reasons. I truly, sincerely hate awkwardness and lying plotlines. They never cease to suck all of the enjoyment out of a scene or movie. Luckily, this was shortlived.

There were some serious moments that I thought were really good, like Roddy being so happy that there was someone else to say ‘goodnight’ back to him that he kept saying it over and over to Rita, and Roddy making good on his promise to give Rita not only a ruby but also an emerald to help replace something she lost.

This is also one of those movies that I imagine would get better on repeat viewings due to little background jokes you might have missed the first time out.

Also, very minor, but I hate that this is one of those movies that ends on a dance party. That friggin’ trope needs to die.

Recommended Audience: While there is some potty humor here and there, it doesn’t fare nearly as badly as you might expect from the title. There’s some kinda dark humor and mild violence, but nothing terrible. I was actually somewhat insulted that this movie essentially got a free pass by Common Sense Media for being kinda crass, yet a fun, good kids movie when they absolutely trashed Monster House. Ya know, the movie that doesn’t include a plot about goddamn genocide by piss water. Fairness is fun. 6+

Images courtesy of AnimationScreencaps.com.

Final Notes: Supposedly, Dreamworks meddled a lot with this movie after the US failure of Wallace and Gromit. Aardman is a company that works best when left to their own devices, and even though the details of what exactly went on behind the scenes, the tension between the companies was enough for this movie to be their final venture with each other. Aardman left Dreamworks and never looked back.

Aardman had a brief relationship with Sony Pictures Animation, but have been bouncing between studios for newer projects since 2012.

Aardman’s Clay: Chicken Run

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Rating: 8.5/10

Plot: Ginger is one of many chickens in Mrs. Tweedy’s chicken farm, and she’s also the one leading a mass effort to break out of the place. With their lives amounting to nothing but laying eggs and suffering from a swift blow by an ax when the eggs stop being produced, they are desperate to escape by any means necessary. However, every escape effort made by Ginger and the chickens has been met with failure.

When hope seems to be at its dimmest, their salvation falls from the sky. Literally. A rooster named Rocky flies into the farm and subsequently crashes. With a poster revealing Rocky as an amazing flying rooster, Ginger recruits him to teach them all how to fly and escape in exchange for hiding him from the circus that he belongs to. Rocky agrees, but seems to be hiding something. And with Mrs. Tweedy’s new chicken pot pie making machine arriving on their doorstep, they have no time for secrets or failures.

Breakdown: Once upon a time, Dreamworks had a sexy love affair with Aardman animations, also known as ‘oh yeah that claymation studio’. Like all good relationships, this one started out steamy and ended in a toilet…..but more on that another day. The main point of this is Chicken Run.

Chicken Run was Aardman’s first ever feature length film after many years of doing short films. Aardman is indeed ‘that claymation studio’ as they pretty much have the market cornered in keeping that style alive. You may know them from Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and even Arthur Christmas.

Aardman clearly seems to have more creative control on this project that Dreamworks did. Other than the logo in the beginning, I can’t really feel anything Dreamworks-y here. That will change down the line, but again we’ll talk about that later on.

Chicken Run, at its base, is kinda predictable but mostly in regards to what I feel is the weakest part of the film, Rocky.

It is painfully obvious from the getgo that Rocky is hiding something, and even more obvious that he’s hiding the fact that he can’t actually fly. Much of the running time is somewhat awkward as you subconsciously tick down that clock in your head that will eventually reach ‘when the shit hits the fan’. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I hate when shows and movies do this. I don’t want to feel awkward while watching a movie. I don’t want to sit there twiddling my thumbs waiting for the big devastating ‘secret’ to come out in the open. It’s not entertaining to me.

Luckily, the way they handled it with Rocky wasn’t too bad….but then you have Rocky himself. Rocky is a very…if you’ll forgive the pun, cocky guy. And he’s the lone handsome American in a group of English girls (and one old rooster…and one Scottish hen) so of course the girls all fawn over him except for Ginger who is way more concerned with getting out of there, which leads the two to bicker and have weird sexual chicken tension. They even do the bit where he calls her by cute and semi-psuedo-ish sexist nicknames like dollface while she constantly corrects him that her name is Ginger.

All that said, I watched this movie when it first came out and I remember not being all that impressed with it. However, on the rewatch, I got plenty of laughs and entertainment out of it. Barring the cliché plotline with the deceit and cliché character relationship between the two leads, it’s still a very solid movie.

While Rocky does seem like he’s going to be the one to end up saving the day in the end, and they even have an almost eye-rolling scene involving Rocky saving Ginger while they both yell each other’s name in slow motion, it’s still Ginger’s idea that comes out on top and Ginger as the final hero. Ginger is very likable in that she seems to be the only one around with real sense and determination. She is a true leader to her friends, and while she honestly could get away from the farm on her own, she refuses to do so even under threat of death because she won’t abandon her friends.

The setting of the chicken farm is pretty unique, even if it is masking for a prison break movie. Most of the characters, large and small, are pretty memorable and funny. Babs in particular is funny purely because, no matter what they’re doing, she won’t put down her damn knitting needles. Also, there are egg-obsessed rats who are contracted out to get supplies for the girls and oddly enough they seem to be based on Statler and Waldorf as they make snarky commentary over everything the chickens do to escape.

Mrs. and Mr. Tweedy are a bit too super-villainy for my taste, but they also get some great scenes and have a good dynamic. Mrs. Tweedy is a greedy evil bitch who is so emotionally detached from….everything, she even calls her husband ‘Mr. Tweedy.’ Speaking of Mr. Tweedy, he is the only one who realizes that the chickens are smart and organized, yet his wife continues to simply call him crazy. He’s the bumbling oaf, she’s the evil mastermind.

I also don’t really understand their plan. They don’t seem to be making enough money selling eggs, so they buy a really overly-complicated chicken pot pie making machine to turn their chickens into pies and get rich off of selling the pies. Okay….well, what happens when you run out chickens? You’d have to buy more chickens. And you have to have a constant supply of vegetables, pie crusts and gravy not to mention how much money it probably costs to run the machine. I’d bet by the time they processed their last chicken they probably would only barely cover the initial costs of the machine.

Then, spoiler alert for the ending, she sees that the chickens are indeed intelligent, organized and have built a giant mechanical bird to fly out of the farm (this is the second movie I’ve seen involving a bunch of oppressed animals building an operational mechanical bird…) yet she’s still obsessed with killing them instead of….I dunno, selling them to the circus that came by earlier. Or putting on her own show. I’d think an intelligent chicken who can build complicated aeronautics is more of a ticket seller than a chicken who is shot out of a cannon. End of spoilers.

I will admit that I’m not a fan of claymation/stop-motion. I respect the living hell out of claymation animators because it is just so painstaking, slow and frustrating to work in this style, but it just doesn’t typically work for me, outside of movies and shorts that are intentionally driven for creepiness and horror. Something about it is…., well, creepy to me. That said, this is a very well-made film. Aardman does some fantastic art and animation work that really draw you into their world with some incredible details. I think the teeth and constant open mouths on the chickens was a bit off-putting, but nothing that bad.

In regards to voice acting, everyone did a great job. They did a wonderful job making these characters real for me…..though, again, Rocky is kinda the exception. Rocky is voiced by Mel Gibson, and I can’t separate the two. Mel Gibson does not have range. He just doesn’t. And every voice acting role he takes is just Mel Gibson talking through whatever animated mouthpiece he’s given. He acts perfectly fine, but I just can’t not hear Mel Gibson.

Bottomline: Chicken Run is a great movie with some fantastic characters, wonderful comedic timing and slapstick, and a fun little prison break adventure. It’s not full-on comedy as some moments get pretty damn real, but it is still a movie that achieved in making me actually laugh out loud several times. The two tones work well together, and I found it to be a fantastic ride.

Recommended Audience: While there’s nothing graphic, there is a lot of talk of slaughtering chickens, and one chicken sees the business end of an ax during the movie. They obviously don’t show the scene full out, but you see the silhouette of the ax being raised and then the sound of it hitting the chopping block. There’s also a slight gore fake out at the end. Other than the downright depressing mood that this movie can bring about, there’s nothing else of note. 7+