Dir. by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt - 1 hr. 28 min.
Official Trailer #2
by Clayton Hollifield
Usually, if it's an Aardman film, it's pretty fun. "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is no exception (wonky punctuation aside). Did you know that the best part of being a pirate is not the looting, nor cutlasses, but ham nite? I had intended to get around to seeing this movie eventually, but the movie that I wanted to go see was sold out (on a Tuesday night? Heresy!), and this was the next best thing. It ended up being a much better choice in retrospect.
"The Pirates!" is from the same production company responsible for "Wallace and Grommit" and "Chicken Run," so if you've ever seen either of those, you know what the characters are going to look like (which is fine - they do a very good job of claymation). This movie is about a second-rate band of pirates, led by the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant), who wants to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award. Unfortunately, he's outclassed by some of the other pirates like Cutlass Liz (Selma Hayek) and Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven). The Pirate Captain's resolve is renewed, but after a series of attacks on other ships yields nothing, he is set on a new path by Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who recognizes the Pirate Captain's parrot as a definitely not extinct dodo. Darwin lures the crew back to London with the promise of untold riches, with is the prize of the yearly scientific discovery award, biding time to steal the bird for himself, which would net him the fame, prizes, and hand of the woman he has a crush on.
The animation itself is top-notch. In an era of computer animation, there's a certain charm to traditionally animated films. The Aardman sense of character design is wonky and appealing, and the characters themselves have a heft to them that feels more tangible. To further heap kudos upon this crew, the set design is wonderful: detailed and feels like the world these characters would live in. And while you might expect that a stop-motion animation film might not handle action as well as you'd like, that's completely not an issue here. There are a couple of stand-out visual scenes (more than that, actually, but I'll mention two): the first is at Blood Island, where the contenders for Pirate of the Year are introduced, each more fancifully than the other. The second is in Charles Darwin's manor, when an attempted abduction of Polly turns into a spectacular chase involving the entire staircase of the multi-story building, various knick-knacks, and the entire pirate crew in a bathtub. It really has to be seen to be believed, especially considering that the entire thing had to make some kind of real-world sense in order to be filmed.
The sense of humor here is broad (in a positive way). This isn't an edgy film; if you're taking children to see it, it's unlikely that there's anything cringe-worthy to worry about. That doesn't mean that it's dull for adults, either. This is a film that's aware of pirate tropes, including such characters as The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate and The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens (yes, most of the pirates have names like this, only non-pirates seem to have sort-of normal names). Probably the best character is Darwin's man-pan-zee, Bobo, who communicates with note cards (and there are some fantastic gags involving this). There's some verbal humor, but the best stuff is visual (fitting for a cartoon, "The Pirates!" seizes the opportunity and takes advantage of it's visual approach), and there's no shortage of visual gags.
This isn't the best kids movie I've ever seen (or are they called "family movies?" I don't know), but it's a decent one. It succeeds on the most fundamental level - it's a fun, enjoyable movie. If you're an animation buff, there's more to enjoy based on the masterful use of claymation, but even if you're not, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be distracted by technique. Mostly, it's a goofy pirate movie for kids (but also adults), and it's a good way to spend an hour and a half.
3.5 / 5 - Theatre (3D)