Thunderpants (2002)

Rating:

UK/Germany. 2002.

Crew

Director/Story – Pete Hewitt, Screenplay – Phil Hughes, Producers – Pete Hewitt, Graham Broadbent & Damian Jones, Photography – Andy Collins, Music – Rupert Gregson-Williams, Visual Effects Supervisor – Paul Riddle, Makeup Design – Lizzi Yianni Gieorgiou, Production Design – Chris Rooper. Production Company – Pathe/Sky Pictures/The Film Council/Mission Pictures/CP Medien

Cast

Bruce Cook (Patrick Smash), Rupert Grint (Alan A. Alan), Simon Callow (Sir John Osgood), Ned Beatty (General Ed Sheppard), Joshua Herdman (Damon), Paul Giamatti (Agent Johnson J. Johnson), Stephen Fry (Anthony Silk), Adam Godley (Placido P. Placeebo), Bronagh Gallagher (Mrs Smash), Victor McGuire (Mr Smash), Celia Imrie (Miss Rapier), Anna Popplewell (Denise Smash)


Plot

From the moment he was born, Patrick Smash has an embarrassing problem with his powerful, uncontrollable farts. They cause his father to leave and him to be beaten by bullies and rejected by everybody at school. Only the young genius Alan A. Alan accepts Patrick and becomes his best friend. Alan comes up with Thunderpants, a device for collecting and harmlessly dissipating Patrick’s flatulence. Patrick comes to realise that he has a unique gift and uses it to fly a fart-powered hovercraft built by Alan in an unpowered flight competition. Patrick is then selected by Sir John Osgood, the world’s second best tenor, who uses Patrick’s farts to help him hit the impossibly high notes, but this ends in disaster when Sir John’s deception is exposed by his rival Placido P. Placeebo. When a falling light kills Placeebo, Patrick is tried for murder. Patrick’s salvation comes when he is recruited by the American space mission who want his farts to power a rocket to go and rescue the astronauts trapped aboard the space station Icarus.


As premises go, Thundepants has an astonishingly vulgar one – kid is born with the capacity to make incredibly strong, uncontrollable farts; after much humour about this, kid eventually comes to realise that he is blessed with a special gift. The scatology of the minds it must have taken to make this film is worrying. It is mind-boggling to try and imagine what the various boardroom pitch sessions for the film must have been like. It is a premise that you are certain that even that master of revolting rhymes, Roald Dahl himself, may have quailed as being just that little bit too déclassé to commit to paper. It surely shows the inroads that the vulgar revelry of the Brothers’ Farrelly and Wayans have started in making in the cinema of the 00’s in that a film with such a premise can be released with a PG certificate and moreover intended as a children’s film.

All of that said, Thunderpants comes together as an appealingly absurdist fairytale. The kid’s farts launching a NASA mission is perhaps a feature-length extension of a gag that appeared in The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000). In its own surreal way – that is sort of Roald Dahl without Dahl’s maliciously nasty undertow – Thunderpants is an oddly amiable film. An American equivalent would have played the idea way over the top but Pete Hewitt tempers it with some droll asides. Bruce Cook gives a performance that is likable in its sheer ordinariness. Everybody appears to be having fun, most amusing being Ned Beatty’s turn as a God-quoting, stars’n’striper American general. It is still amazing that a film with a premise like this ever managed to get greenlighted.

Thunderpants was directed and conceived by Pete (previously Peter) Hewitt (who has dropped one letter of his name presumably to prevent confusion with also-British director Peter Howitt of Sliding Doors (1998), Antitrust (2001) and Johnny English (2003) fame). Hewitt had previously made films such as Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) and The Borrowers (1997) (the original books of which Patrick’s sister can be seen reading in the very first scene) and would go onto make Garfield (2004) and Zoom: Academy for Superheroes (2006). In The Borrowers, Hewitt cast Mary Norton’s little people story in a peculiar English Midlands fantasy landscape – a surreal land of identical brickwork council houses where everybody drove a Morris Minor. Hewitt returns to the same look here, although here the joke is that all the English drive green Mini Minors, while the Americans are identified by a black Lincoln.



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