19/01/2012 17:13 GMT | Updated 20/03/2012 05:12 GMT

Aardman's Armless Fun? Leprosy Charity LEPRA Disagrees

A video trailer for Aardman and Sony Picture Entertainment's new film The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! has been criticised for its "poor taste" by national leprosy charity LEPRA Health in Action for its depiction of people with leprosy. The charity has launched an online campaign to explain why it matters.

The trailer includes a scene in which the Pirate Captain lands on board a 'leper-boat'. After a brief conversation with a man on the boat, the man's arm falls off.

The film, scheduled for release in March 2012, has "caused great distress for those affected by leprosy and those working in the field to treat and prevent the condition", according to LEPRA, which has been operating since 1924. The scene perpetuates a myth that the charity thought it had been successfully challenging.

The charity has redesigned its website's front page to focus on this campaign, under the headline "Leprosy: Let's fight the prejudice".

The charity points out that "no - limbs don't just fall off. Not even for comic effect." It challenges this and other myths in its Leprosy myth busters section.

It has been busy sharing the word via Twitter, Facebook and with a video response to the trailer from the charity's chief executive Sarah Nancollas:

The campaign has already attracted support from the World Health Organisation, from celebrities and other charities. Victoria Hislop, author of 'The Island', said: "It's all too easy to reinforce the ancient ideas about leprosy and the stigma attached to it and a real pity that the film-makers weren't aware of all the work that has gone in to correcting the misconceptions.

Narsappa, President of the state forum of people affected by leprosy (SLAP), Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India, said: "We join LEPRA India in raising our protest to this film. It will spread a wrong message to the general public about leprosy."

Lepra's president Sir Chris Bonington told the BBC: "It might make you laugh but leprosy stigma not only hurts, it is still forcing people to live a life on the fringes of society.

The charity recognises that it could be accused of lacking a sense of humour, and comments on its Facebook page have been made to that effect. But it argues that a film on global release with this "old joke" in could result in "very real fear, discrimination and exclusion of leprosy affected people."

Aardman, which set up the The Wallace & Gromit Children's Foundation in 2003 to raise funds for children's hospitals and hospices throughout the UK, has responded by saying: "Aardman take matters like this most seriously and is reviewing the situation."