Chris Harrop’s review:
The most-impressive aspect of the latest Aardman Animation feature “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is the seamless ways in which director Peter Lord and his visual team bring together stop-motion clay animation and CGI effects, especially given converting them into 3D.
But as with plenty of other eye-candy flicks such as “Transformers” and “Avatar,” the story is sparse compared to the immense amount of eye-pleasing details — which are also among the funniest and amusing bits of the film, many of them relegated to the background for only the most-observant viewers to pick up on.
At its core, “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is every bit as silly and subversive as you’d expect from the venerable British animation outfit. The aptly named Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) is a fun mix of the stereotypically foolhardy, boisterous sea criminals you get in standard seafaring adventures whose emotional tides ebb and flow between cocksure arrogance and an inferiority complex.
His quest for recognition in the form of the Pirate of the Year award drives his actions and the antics of his shabby crew. Among them:
- The Pirate with a Scarf, the dutiful No. 2 man on the ship (voiced by Martin Freeman);
- The Pirate with Gout, no explanation needed (voiced by the Brendan Gleeson);
- The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, who seems to do a solid job masking her gender with a ridiculous orange beard (voiced by Ashley Jensen);
- and The Albino Pirate (voiced by Anton Yelchin).
Lacking in riches, major victories in sea battles or any sort of accolades that would position Pirate Captain in the running for his coveted award, he happens upon none other than Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) and his HMS Beagle amid a string of plunderings. While there are no jewels or gold coins aboard for his scientific journey, Darwin’s discovery that Pirate Captain’s prized Polly is, in fact, a long-assumed-extinct Dodo bird puts the pirates on a new course for London, where they will attempt to fool the scientific community they are fellow scholars and collect the spoils of such a biological breakthrough — all while avoiding the wrath of the gastronomically adventurous Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton), who has less tolerance for pirates than she does for her food not being ready on time.
“The Pirates” doesn’t try to be the end-all, be-all send-up of high-seas films, nor does it try to parrot the action-comedy of the Johnny Depp “Pirates” franchise. It’s a thoroughly British comedy that makes you work for the biggest laughs (such as spotting the numerous gags written on framed portraits and village placards in the background of numerous scenes) but still provides plenty of 3D-boosted stop-motion slapstick to satisfy younger members of the film’s audience. As it usually is with Aardman, the story and comedy are really for the adults in the theater.
The only real issue with the film is there’s not as much of this high-quality humor as we’ve come to expect in previous efforts such as “Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” Despite managing to bring together the motion-captured figures with 3D effects with surprising vigor, the scope of the film seems very small. Whereas in “Flushed Away” you got a sense of a sprawling subterranean world where sewer creatures have created cities, the vast expanse of the ocean and the darkness of Victorian Londontown appear very small, even with use of a third dimension to tell this story.
If this is the start of a franchise that continues to provide solid laughs, it’s OK that “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” leaves us wanting more. But if this is all we’re set to see of these characters, it will leave me with a sinking feeling.