UK 2002 : Peter Hewitt : 90 mins

In cinema terms at least, kids have arguably never had it so good – last year, British screens saw Shrek, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings post massive box-office figures, and this year Monsters, Inc and Ice Age have kept up the momentum. But there may be a downside: are young cinemagoers now so spoiled by these big-budget CGI marvels they’ll overlook less extravagant fare? We’ll find out when the homegrown Thunderpants is released – a sweet, undemanding little picture that suddenly seems almost laughably small-scale and old-fashioned.

But the Harry Potter effect may, ironically, be Thunderpants‘ saving grace – this is the next screen appearance for Rupert Grint, Philosopher’s Stone‘s scene-stealing Ron Weasley, and if you believed the poster art and billing, you’d be forgiven for thinking Grint is the star of the show. He’s absent for a long stretch in the middle, however, and there’s no doubt that the actual lead is engagingly unassuming newcomer Bruce Cook as Patrick Smash, an ungainly, overweight kid with the kind of pudding-bowl haircut you only ever see in children’s movies and TV. Grint is his best friend Alan A. Allen, a bespectacled junior boffin with the kind of wild ginger hair which, again, you only ever see in children’s movies.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Patrick’s special gift – in what’s presumably a nod to the Viz comic character Johnny Fartpants, he breaks wind: frequently, noisily and powerfully. So powerfully, in fact, that his gas may be enough to fuel a spaceship and fulfil his lifelong dream of being an astronaut (perhaps somebody gave him a copy of the legendary Manga video Wings of Honneamise for Christmas. Perhaps not). Enter Ned Beatty and Paul Giamatti, visiting good-sport yanks as representatives of the ‘United States Space Consortium’ or USSC – NASA having presumably been bad-sport yanks and refused permission to use their logo. Along the way the lads meet up with the usual gallery of British character actors turning up to do their patriotic bit for the local industry in between more lucrative Hollywood gigs: Simon Callow, Stephen Fry, Leslie Phillips, Robert Hardy and Celia Imrie, the latter making the most of her cartoonish role as a strict schoolmistress, and looking amusingly like a cross-channel cousin of Isabelle Huppert in 8 Femmes.

The dead hand of the Children’s Film Foundation hovers over many of the scenes, but there are some nicely surreal moments that aren’t a million miles away from Roald Dahl country. And production designer Chris Roope transcends his budgetary limitations by making almost every prop and bit of clothing in Patrick’s town a suitably bilious shade of green.

29th March, 2002
(seen 26th January, Cineworld Milton Keynes)

by Neil Young
Back to Film Index