The cast of "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." / Aardman Animations for Sony Pictures Animation
‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits’
Three stars (out of four)
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Three stars (out of four)
The lunacy begins early in “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” and never lets up, which is an excellent thing.
And really, is there any other word than “lunacy” to cover ham night for pirates, a Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate and Charles Darwin as a bad guy, sort of? (Simmer down, creation theorists -- he’s more selfish than evil. Queen Victoria is the evil one.) The film, directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt, comes from Aardman Animations, the folks behind the “Wallace and Gromit” films, and it’s a hoot. I wouldn’t use it as a study guide for Victorian history, though it would be fun to see the reaction on the teacher’s face when the test was graded.
The Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant) is beloved by his crew, which includes the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen), the Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman) and the Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson). A motley bunch, for certain. And, truth be told, the Captain is not much of a pirate -- at least not when it comes to important pirate stuff, like raiding other ships and stealing booty, things like that.
That sort of thing is done better and more often by the likes of Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven). This doesn’t prevent the Captain from entering the Pirate of the Year contest, however, even though his chances at winning are non-existent. The Captain just doesn’t have much luck when it comes to stealing, as a funny series of ship raids shows.
Then one day he raids the H.M.S. Beagle, where he encounters Charles Darwin himself (with voice provided by David Tennant). Darwin’s not having much more luck than the Pirate Captain with his own career -- until he realizes that Polly, the Captain’s beloved bird, which everyone thought was just a fat parrot, is in fact the last dodo in existence.
Darwin wants to take the bird to London, so that he can win the science academy’s award. But the Captain wants in on the action, as well, so he decides that he, along with his crew, will accompany Darwin to London. The only hitch: Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) hates pirates, and will doubtless do away with the Captain and his gang if she catches them.
Ridiculous, rollicking adventures follow, including a chase scene involving a bathtub that rivals the train chase in “The Wrong Trousers” (well, almost). In the hilarious-but-mute, smarter-than-he-looks animal role that Gromit fills so well in his films is Mr. Bobo, a sort of simian gentleman’s gentleman for Darwin, who describes him like this: “I thought if you took a monkey, game him a monocle and covered up his gigantic unsightly arse, then he would cease to be a monkey and become more of a Manpanzee, if you will.”
If you laughed at that, you likely will love “Pirates!” If not, well, it might be a tougher slog. The humor is dry, “witty” might better describe it. Very British, you might say. Surprisingly, this is Grant’s first time voicing an animated character; he’s really good as the Captain, nailing both his infectious enthusiasm for his work and his base ineptitude. The combination leaves you with a character worth rooting for, no matter how many times he fails. (Answer: many.)
It’s not quite on a par with Aardman features like “The Wrong Trousers” or “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” Wallace and Gromit’s classic adventures, or “Chicken Run.” But “Pirates!” boasts its share of delights, for kids and grown-ups alike. It’s funny, it’s smart (look for Jane Austen and the Elephant Man in a pub), and sure enough of itself that it didn’t have to over-rely on the word “Arghhh” to get its pirate point across.
The lunacy begins early in 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' and never lets up, which is an excellent thing. And really, is there any other word than 'lunacy' to cover ham night for pirates, a
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