Review: The Pirates! Band of Misfits
PLOT: The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) sails the high seas with his trusty crew of pirate misfits, including his first mate- The Pirate With A Scarf (Martin Freeman), and his beloved “parrot”. Determined to win the pirate of the year award, all seems lost until they plunder a ship carrying Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who recognizes that the pirate’s mascot isn’t really a parrot, but rather a long-extinct Dodo bird. Now it’s off to London, to present their Dodo at a science symposium, without first getting captured by the minions of pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
REVIEW: THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS is the latest offering from Aardman Animation. Based on the popular series of children’s books, PIRATES is Aardman’s return to stop-motion animation, where recent offerings like ARTHUR CHRISTMAS have gone the CGI route (although this does feature a fair bit of CGI mixed in with the more traditional methods). However, like that film, and the earlier FLUSHED AWAY, this continues Aardman’s move away from the dry, thoroughly British approach of WALLACE & GROMIT, and CHICKEN RUN, towards a more madcap American-style, with PIRATES not being all that different from something like SHREK.
As such, PIRATES probably won’t really hold that much appeal to Aardman’s older fans that grew up on WALLACE & GROMIT. Rather, it’s geared towards (presumably) American kids- although there’s enough wit here to keep PIRATES from being too much of a slog for parents. Voicing The Pirate Captain, we get Hugh Grant sound very Hugh Grant-ish, meaning a WHOLE LOT of stammering, as the rather less-than-bold, or bright captain. I guess pirates, after taking a beating in the eighties and nineties with Polanski’s PIRATES, NATE & HAYES (a good film actually), and CUTHROAT ISLAND are all of a sudden hip again thanks to PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN, and in that regard, I guess the best thing I can say about Grant here is that (thank God) he doesn’t try to ape Johnny Depp too much, and plays to his strengths.
The rest of the predominantly British casts of voices (including Brendan Gleeson, Ashley Jensen, Freeman, Staunton, Tennant and others) are terrific- although I was really thrown off by Jeremy Piven showing up as yet another pirate, who sounded like Ari Gold of the high seas, and clashed badly with the tone of the film. Like the SHREK films (which were probably the model here), PIRATES is filled with pop tunes, including a disheartening use of ‘London Calling’ (like Springsteen’s ‘Born In The U.S.A’ in that it’s been co-opted as patriotic when the intent was anything but), and even a shout out to FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS (thanks to the use of “I’m Not Crying”- the lyrics for which are easily the funniest thing in the film).
Overall, I didn’t have that bad a time with PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS, and I cracked a smile once or twice, thanks mostly to a monkey manservant that communicates by cue cards, and a really funny reference to The Elephant Man. Still, it lacks the charm of Aardman’s earlier work; although I have a hunch the kiddies will love it- just like the seemed to love ARTHUR CHRISTMAS.