It’s always fascinating to me when I learn about a film that has huge cultural significance in its home country but, for whatever reason, has never really broken out internationally. The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix boasts the impressive distinction of being so popular in its native Norway that the number of tickets sold exceeds the country’s entire population — and yet despite having more than one English dub, I had never heard it mentioned at all until specifically searching for Norwegian films a few years ago. When I was very young, it felt like most of the kids’ TV available on my extremely limited set of channels consisted of slightly janky stop-motion, often following eccentric characters’ low-key adventures in the same few locations. This perhaps explains why my first viewing of Pinchcliffe made me incredibly nostalgic, despite never having encountered it before.
Theodore, a bicycle repairman who also dabbles in inventing elaborate machines, lives on top of a mountain in a small Norwegian town. He shares his home with a chirpy young magpie and a depressed hedgehog, for whatever reason. The plot is not really much to write home about — the inventor discovers that a champion racecar driver is only succeeding because he’s using stolen plans for a special motor. With backing from a holidaying oil sheik, he builds his own car and sets out to beat the thief at his own game. Also, the sheik is friends with a gorilla and another bird, who performs a belly dance. Apparently, the various models used in the film had been built for an earlier TV show that had never gotten off the ground; rather than give up on the project, the director and his son came up with a new storyline using the existing characters and turned it into a feature film.
It’s not going to win any awards for complex storytelling, but the stop-motion animation is extremely charming, especially in the scenes that seem to have been devised purely to showcase it, rather than advance the plot. The opening scenes have a lot of fun with the repair shop’s elaborate machines, and the eccentric inventor/animal sidekick vibes feel like they must surely have been an influence on Aardman Animations and Wallace and Gromit. Before the big race, the whole town comes together to play some of the film’s consistently excellent score, which is stuffed with little flourishes as each musician gets their own little solo. The gorilla is on the drums, but that probably goes without saying.
Most of the last act of the film is taken up by the race itself, which is impressively exciting and vividly fast-paced. Naturally, there’s some sabotage and foul play to overcome, and while the outcome is never really in doubt, the action is choreographed well enough to keep things thrilling. I’ve never really understood the appeal of real-life motorsport, but throw in a car that has a switch literally labeled “dirty tricks,” let drivers build their own cars with rockets strapped to them and select a melancholy hedgehog as their co-driver and I’m all in.
The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix definitely isn’t perfect. It feels a little ramshackle and, at times, spends far too long on car terminology — I’m not sure anyone watching this cares how many carburetors the fictional car has — but for fans of stop-motion animation, its a must-see, with some beautifully executed background gags, thrilling action, odd characters and great music. I wish I’d gotten to see it as a kid, but discovering it as an adult was still a treat!
The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is available on YouTube — ed.