The Pirates! Band of Misfits
In this stop-motion
animated feature the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) is preparing
to enter himself into the Pirate of the Year competition. Having failed
over a number of years to take the prize, he is laughed off by his
competitors including Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).
Supported by his crew including Number Two (Martin Freeman), the Pirate
Captain sets off to plunder as much treasure as possible and become a
serious contender for the top prize. When he and his men aboard a ship
they stumble upon scientist Charles Darwin (David Tennant).
He only has animals and body parts so to save himself he tells them that
the parrot Polly they are carrying is the last living dodo and convinces
them to attend a science show where they will collect a prize. Number
Two remains suspicious of Darwin and his trained monkey who is trying to
sneak off with Polly. The group is also pursued by Queen Victoria
(Imelda Staunton) who is intent on hunting down all pirates.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is regularly funny and colourfully written,
but not everything I had hoped for. The film carries great expectations
given the success of Peter Lord's previous film Chicken Run (2000) and
his work as a producer on the animated shorts Wallace and Gromit. Due to
the film's frequently witty screenplay, Lord and co-director Jeff Newitt
make the intelligent decision of focussing on humour instead of action.
The film is modest, never reaching the spectacle of How to Train Your
Dragon (2010) or the emotional peaks of Up (2009), but there is fun to
be had both visually and aurally through the script's wordplay and sight
gags too. I am always astounded by the minute details that animators
impose on a single frame or image.
In one of the film's silliest moments the Pirate Captain's crew ride a
bathtub down a flight of stairs and if you look closely you can see one
of the men rowing with a paddle. This brand of ridiculous humour is
complimented by an enthusiastic and well-chosen set of voice actors. The
leads are outstanding. Who better to play a know-it-all, self-absorbed
dummy than Hugh Grant? He's well serviced by funny, blink and you'll
miss it dialogue like: "We didn't evolve from slugs to stand around!"
By his side is the sensible, reassuring voice of Martin Freeman, who
rather cleverly brings the same sense of maturity and reasoning as his
interpretation of Watson from the TV series Sherlock. Some of the other
actors voicing the side characters are underused, including Salma Hayek,
and just seem to be included for a name on the poster. In terms of
narrative The Pirates! has a few turns and gimmicks that separate it
from the usual coming of age animated stable.
How many animated features would be willing to include the likes of
Charles Darwin? Or references to Jane Austen? There's a nice mixture of
silliness and more sophisticated jokes for adults here. It's
disappointing that the story lets itself down in the final quarter
because the gears of the narrative grind to the sound of predictability.
No matter how clever the jokes are there's an air of familiarity about
the story arc and the situations towards the end.
Video, Audio & Special Features
Video is stunning in this Blu-ray
release with some great animation, vibrant colours and special effects.
Audio supports DTS-HD Master Audio and sounds brilliant through our Sony
Surround Sound system. Special Features include filmmakers commentary
and two featurettes entitled From Stop to Motion (making the movie via
stop motion animation) and Creating the Bath Chase. Lastly, the Blu-ray
features a dress up game called Pirate Disguise.
Overall, the film is a
pleasant and harmless distraction but it reiterates that there is still
a sizeable gap in the mainstream animated circuit between what is light,
funny and charming and the more involving, multidimensional works from
the likes of Pixar.