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Simon’s Rating: 7/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.5/10
(2 reviews total)
What’s the best part of being a pirate? Well it’s not plundering and it’s not cutlasses, it’s ham day of course! Such is at least the belief on the vessel of Pirate Captain and his loyal band of lovable rouges. Is that the reason why they are the laughing stock amongst other buccaneers? Perhaps, but their oddball assemblage of ugly marauders and “surprisingly curvaceous” pirates wouldn’t have it any other way. Aardman Animations’ latest stop-motion adventure The Pirates! Band of Misfits takes a wholesome approach to looting and pillaging while disorienting history in the process.
Following up a stint in CG with Arthur Christmas, Aardman adapts this effort from The Pirates! In Adventures with Scientists, the first installment in author Gideon Defoe’s anthology, which, among others, includes works captioned “In an Adventure with Whaling” and “In an Adventure with Communists.” “Pirates” is a marked improvement over the slightly “Americanized” antics of Arthur Christmas though it still feels more washed out than the side-splitting hilarity found in Wallace and Gromit.
Like the ship at the center of this tale, “Misfits” clips along at a steady pace, delivering a consistent flow of charm but never really ramping up the humor enough to evoke as many guffaws as seem to brim just below the surface. There are a handful of wry sequences that are pure “Monty Python,” while others seem to have forgotten to deliver the punch line altogether — an erratic bobbing that makes for an uneven experience.
The one element that remains unscathed is Aardman’s trademark slapstick, continuing to put to shame all others that attempt to match it. If you can pull of a stunt that results in a few pirates, a chimp and Charles Darwin riding down the stairs in the bathtub, then I’ll eat my words.
The funniest ongoing gag comes when it’s time to travel across the high seas and the view zooms out, turning to the oft-used cliché of “map mode.” Aardman seems well aware of this device and opts to have decorative images on the map interfere with their voyage: the creases in the paper cause a literal uphill battle and those red dots that trace where they’ve been? Actual floating red discs tossed out of the back of the ship. A similar bit was used in The Muppets because it was “quicker to travel by map” and it’s just as humorous here.
With Defoe’s source material and Aardman’s affinity for general tomfoolery, “Band of Misfits” makes the pirates into just that: rapscallions, but generally good people. On the flip side, Charles Darwin is made into a manipulative ninny (think what Christopher Nolan did with Thomas Edison in The Prestige) and the pirate-hating Queen Victoria into a colossal bitch of a sword-wielding tyrant.
How all this ties together is Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) yearns to scoop up the “Pirate of the Year” award but only succeeds in raiding leper vessels and ghosts ships. Discouraged, he crosses paths with Darwin who recognizes the captains “big-boned parrot” is actually the last remaining dodo and tricks him into returning to London to present it, promising “untold riches.” That promise, coincidently, turns out to be a rendezvous with the sadistic queen. It’s all very scattershot but it works in this claymation world.
So while The Pirates! Band of Misfits does not live up to the greatest of Aardman’s work, one could go about far worse ways to introduce his or her children to the charm of British humor. Along with a brisk pace and lively action, there are boisterous laughs to be had, and for entire families (yes, adults included), it will offer a very different tone and aesthetic than your typical Disney or DreamWorks entry. Avast!
Kieran thought: “Aardman Animations has made many classic family movies and shorts in the past. The Pirates! Band of Misfits (or The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists in the UK) continues that tradition and it is a movie that will please children and adults thanks to a script filled with clever gags, colorful characters and lot of inventive visual humor and slapstick. Aardman treats adults and children with the respect they deserve and along with Pixar, shows how family movies should be made: story first! There is a talented voice cast on the top of their game (except for Jeremy Piven who felt out of place) and Hugh Grant was unrecognizable in the lead role. They are many lovable characters, even the minor ones: my favorites were the Albino Pirate voiced by Being Human’s Russell Rovey (I watched the British version) because of his naïve enthusiasm and Bobo the Chimpanzee with his cards. The animation and action was fluid and fast paced and there is a fun soundtrack throughout. It is not perfect but it is a jolly good time for people of all ages.” Rating: 8/10