HAVING missed the target somewhat with 2006's Flushed Away, when they moved away from their trademark claymation work into computer-generated images, Aardman Studios are back in their favoured format, which gave us Chicken Run and, of course, Wallace and Gromit. Gideon Defoe's series of novels The Pirates! provides the source for this reassuringly jolly romp with an unweildy title
The privateers in question are led by Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), whose unfulfilled ambition is to scoop the coveted Pirate of the Year Award. Alas, this seems likely to elude him as, when it comes to buccaneering, he and his salty seadogs' attempts at plundering are so pathetic that he's a running joke among the skull-and-crossbones set.
However, a chance boarding of a ship called the Beagle leads to an encounter with Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who takes a shine to the captain's parrot, leading to a meeting in London with Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who turns out to be a pirate-hating ninja.
As you'll gather from that brief synopsis The Pirates! doesn't take itself too seriously and is played with great zest by all involved.
The visual gags are there in practically every frame, the use of music is inspired (The Pogues' Fiesta soundtracks one of the film's funniest sequences) and the claymation format feels as fresh as ever. HHHHI
MIRROR MIRROR Fantasy. Starring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Arnie Hammer, Sean Bean. Directed by Tarsem Singh. Cert PG
In the first of this year's movies based on the Snow White fairytale -- Snow White and the Huntsman featuring Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth will be with us in June -- we get to see Julia Roberts having quite the time of it as the wicked Queen.
Roberts pushes the panto button all the way and steals Tarsem Singh's visually ravishing but, at times, dull version of the classic tale.
Lily Collins (daughter of Phil, so thank God she got her looks from her mother) is fine as the princess kept away from the world after her father, the King (Sean Bean), disappears into the deep dark forest and is presumed dead. And Arnie Hammer gets to show off his comic chops as the prince who falls for Snow White.
There are times when the script tries to be a little too clever-clever and falls flat but, as it is, Mirror Mirror is a decent enough retelling of a familiar story. HHHII
WRATH OF THE TITANS Fantasy. Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike, Toby Kebbel. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman.Cert 12A
Despite boasting the worst retro-fitted 3D seen during the current craze, Clash of the Titans proved a huge worldwide smash and so here we have the inevitable sequel.
In a script which amounts to a pick'n'mix of Greek mythology we see Perseus (Sam Worthington) travel to a labyrinth in the underworld where his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) is being held by his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) as a great terror is about to be unleashed on the world. In fairness, it's nowhere near as bad as the first film -- and Rosamund Pike is watchable as the warrior queen.
Oh, and what about the credit which says 'based on characters created by Beverley Cross'? Old Bev must be getting on a bit now if she came up with Perseus, Zeus, Hades and the rest of the ancient Greek deities. HHIII
INTO THE ABYSS Documentary. Directed by Werner Herzog. Cert 15A
Werner Herzog's latest documentary takes us inside a Texas prison's Death Row where we meet Michael Perry, a triple murderer who's days away from death by lethal injection.
In the course of an examination of the morality of the death penalty, we get to learn of the sheer pointlessness of Perry's crime and are given an insight into his frankly terrifying small- town background. Another masterful documentary from Herzog. HHHHI
TINY FURNITURE Drama. Starring Lena Dunham, Grace Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Laurie Simmons, Alex Karpovsky. Directed by Lena Dunham. Cert 15A
If the concerns of self-important arty types wandering around New York galleries feeling sorry for themselves, swapping studied one-liners and sneering at ordinary people sounds like your idea of a night out, then Lena Dunham's debut feature should suit you just fine.
Alas, the simpering, truly childish and selfish behaviour of artist Aura (Dunham) and her hateful boho buddies drove me to distraction. HHIII