Director: Peter Hewett          
Bruce Cook, Rupert Grint, Ned Beatty

Sometimes with a movie, you don't need to be given a lot of explanation as to what it's about it. With the movie Pieces, all the distributor had to do in some quarters was show a chainsaw on the poster along with a tagline that read, "It's exactly what you think it is!" One example where the distributor didn't even have to add a tagline to make things clear was with Rats: Night Of Terror. In fact, I would say that the last three words of the title probably didn't need to be there. And then there is the movie Thunderpants. From that title alone, you probably have a good idea of what it's about. Hell, you probably have also correctly guessed what the general quality of the movie is like. But since I cannot be absolutely sure (and lord knows, I need to stretch out this review somehow), perhaps a clearer explanation is needed. So I think I will grab the movie's Canadian DVD box (since, like Titanic: The Animated Movie, no American distributor to date has been crazy enough to purchase the American rights), and mention what's written on the back:

"An uplifting comedy adventure from the director of The Borrowers. Thunderpants tells the story of a 10 year-old boy who dreams of being a spaceman... From the day he is born, Patrick Smash baffles his family and teachers alike with his special gift - an amazing ability to fart. Patrick's best friend Alan A. Allen (played by Rupert Grint from Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets) is a child genius. With Alan's help, Patrick learns to harness his special powers taking them on a journey of adventure from fame to danger and finally to the U.S. Space Centre. There the world waits to see if they can fulfill their ambition..."

Let me stop for a moment so I can say a couple of things before going on. First of all, I am not making this movie up. There were some readers That's not spare change in his pockets...who doubted the existence of Titanic: The Animated Movie when I reviewed it, and I assure you that other movie is as real as this one. And actually seeing Thunderpants for myself just strengthened my immediate reaction when I first heard about the movie: Who could possibly think this was a good idea? Quite a few people, apparently; the movie is in fact a UK co-production with the U.S.... and France... and Italy... and Germany... and The Netherlands, along with a grant from the British Film Council (and people wonder why the British film industry is now a shell of its former self!) So there are apparently people who think the story of a boy who can break humongous amounts of wind is a good one. The question then should be how anyone could think this could be made into an entertaining movie.

Yes, yes, I have heard of the saying, "There is no such thing as a bad idea, just bad executions of ideas." Though probably the producers used some other arguments to convince investors. I can see them saying, "Haven't we as adults all found humor about farting at one time or another? And aren't kids, the chief target audience of this movie, the ones who love fart jokes the most?" There is certainly some value to those arguments. But hang on a second, let's examine them for a moment. While there may not be such a thing as a bad idea, there are certainly a lot of ideas that would take much more work and careful calculation than usual to be successfully pulled off. For instance, I think anyone would agree that making a good movie based on a large number of Beatles songs stringed together would be a task of Herculean proportions - and the end results of 1978's megabomb Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band prove it. (Some may point to the acclaimed stage show Mamma Mia!, but to that I point out the fact that songs from the Beatles are generally much more complex in their lyrics and instrumentals than those from ABBA.)

As for the other two arguments... well, certainly the subject of farting has brought No comment.great amusement to adults, and not just recently - a hundred years or so ago there was the legendary performance artist Le Petomane, who was hugely popular with audiences. And in the adult British comic magazine Viz, there can be found a character called Johnny Fartpants whose equally active arse has made for some wacky situations that have been extremely hilarious (*). But let's make another examination. Le Petomane was successful, but there was no narrative involved in the production - he was more or less marketed and sold as a freakshow exercise, in the way of today's "Puppetry Of The Penis". As for Johnny Fartpants, he is a cartoon character; with cartoons, you can get away more with some kinds of humor than in live-action form (such as dropping anvils on people's heads.) And while there are actual stories in those comics, they are short stories, usually running no more than a page. Farting isn't something that stays funny for long. Think about it - as a kid, you probably talked about and made more jokes about sex than farting, right? Even as a kid, while you laughed at fart jokes, you unconsciously knew that there was a limit each time when it came to the subject of farting. This also seems to explain why Johnny Fartpants only appears a few times each year in Viz.

So while it may be possible for a writer and a director to collaborate successfully to make a funny and/or touching movie that is filled with non-stop farting, odds are greatly against this ever happening. Thunderpants shows no signs anyone was really making a real effort to go beyond the most obvious situations one would immediately imagine up if presented with the idea of a boy who has always suffered from extreme flatulence. Take the first scene of the movie, depicting Patrick Smash's mother about to give birth to him... oh, you guessed what happens, huh? Though the one thing viewers won't be expecting is that Patrick somehow enters the world that way without an umbilical cord attached to him, which may be a medical marvel more miraculous than the subsequent discovered fact that Patrick has two stomachs. (Actually, upon imagining the scene being done with baby Patrick actually attached to a umbilical cord, I'm thankful the filmmakers were so ignorant of human biology.) Subsequently, the movie - pardon the expression - exhausts the little possible humor found going this easy way out with the next few scenes, depicting the Smash family at home trying various techniques to keep their baby's flatulence under control. Even the most easily amused viewers will quickly stop laughing at sights like garbage bags (slowly inflating) attached to the baby's bottom, and in short notice will all be asking themselves the same question: What were they thinking?

While the movie's simple-minded sense of humor is mostly based around farting, it is equally unimaginative when it tries to create amusement with fart-free sequences. Actually, it goes beyond unimaginative and becomes plagiaristic, using material that has been used so many times in previous movies and various other kinds of media that it's long stopped being funny. Like the scene where Patrick waits outside Alan's workshop while he works on his latest invention, and the depiction of this long passage of time is shown by a pile of candy wrappers at the feet of the snacking Patrick growing larger in each subsequent shot. Or like how child genius Alan is always using big and complex words in his speech that may even throw adults for a loop. (For once, I would love to see a child genius speaking like, well, a child.)

But what is even more insulting to the intelligence that the lame attempts at humor is the story itself. It's so bad that I really don't want to "I once had problems with my ass..."get into it - except for one part. During the events of the movie, Patrick and Alan get separated, and a distraught Patrick takes a job offer a sleazy tenor (Simon Callow, Shakespeare In Love) has offered him - to hide nearby during the tenor's performances and fart the high note the tenor himself can't reach. That's not what's really dumb about this part of the movie, believe it or not. The real stupidity starts when in Italy, Patrick blabs this secret to a jealous rival tenor, even though he's been told not to tell anyone (and even commenting about this out loud.) The tenor decides to sabotage things and slips in a secret smelly fart-potion in Patrick's pudding - in the same scene! (Why did he happen to be carrying this particular potion, if before entering the room he didn't know the secret?) The loud smelly fart on stage that night not only reveals Patrick, it loosens an overhead spotlight that falls on the rival tenor and kills him. And this gets Patrick arrested for murder! And the trial is held not in Italy, but in England! And Patrick is given the death penalty! And then at the last minute before the firing squad, Patrick is sprung by the U.S. Government for a top secret mission, where he's reunited with Alan - meaning that this long stretch of the movie was for nothing but padding out the running time!

It hardly seems right to critique the acting in a movie that's not only about farting, but when the principle characters are played by children. Still, I wonder why out of all the hundreds of children that were no doubt viewed during auditions that newcomer Bruce Cook was chosen to play Patrick Smash. There's really nothing of exception to his performance; in fact, he seems embarrassed most of the time, though I can hardly blame him. As Patrick's genius friend Allan, Grint is more lively, but you can't sense any conviction in what he says or done, which is deadly for a genius character. I suspect he too sensed the utter futility of it all. There is one recognizable star in the movie, American actor Ned Beatty, who plays the head of the American space program that eventually gets in touch with Patrick. Most likely he was cast so the movie would have some star power and get a U.S. sale (though as I indicated earlier, to date that has worked as well as when Beatty was cast in the Canadian movie Angel Square.) All that really struck me about him was how incredibly red his face looked - and I won't bother with the obvious joke. The actors' misery is well complimented by the direction - murky colors, dismal-looking sets and locations, and weird inconsistencies (like how in some scenes, crowds of people are wearing clothing that was only in vogue fifty or so years ago.)

I will say that some of the special effects are quite good. Near the end of the movie, the launch of a rocket into space avoids the expected total use of CGI, and sticks I knew those British tabloids weren't subtle, but this...primarily with old-fashioned model work, with what seems to be a few minor touch-ups with CGI. The results are very impressive, and the fact the effect seems to be a nod to Gerry Anderson and the Thunderbirds TV series (the side of the rocket reads Thunderpants 3) will bring a smile to your weary face. Aside from some of the special effects, is there anything else that I liked about Thunderpants? Well, yes, I haven't got around to telling about the one thing about the movie that got me to actually laugh. More specifically, something not in the movie itself, but something made because of the movie. On the Canadian DVD, among the extras on the disc (such as an interview clip where the actors spout off as many terms for farting that they can think of), there are a couple of trailers for the movie. One is the international trailer for the movie, but its the other one - the trailer used in the UK - that's worth talking about. The trailer not only eliminates the sound of farting from the clips of the movie they use, the whole thing is cut in a way that makes the movie appear to be the story of a dreamy boy with great aspirations to be an astronaut. In other words, the Brits who went to all that trouble to make a movie (with financial help from their foreign friends) about a boy who farts subsequently attempted to sell it to their fellow countrymen as something completely different. Those wacky Brits.

*Curiously, several years before the making of Thunderpants, there was an announcement that a movie was going to be made concerning the Johnny Fartpants character. The credits of this movie make no mention of Viz or acknowledge that it's based on a separate source material, but I wonder if the Thunderpants producers were the ones who were originally negotiating with Viz, but then decided not to pay for the rights and make up their own farting character.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Little Ninjas, Star Kid, Titanic: The Animated Movie