Movie Review: The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Length: 88 minutes
Directors: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Family
Stars: Hugh Grant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek
Stars: 4 out of 5
Fans of Bristol, UK-based Aardman Animations have followed the studio from the days of its work on Peter Gabriel's groundbreaking 1987 music video for "Sledgehammer" to 1989's brilliant Academy Award-winning short, "Creature Comforts" to the cult classic "Wallace and Gromit" series. Founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, Aardman Animations became famous for its classic stop-motion animation and its bizarrely lovable characters. The studio's 2000 film "Chicken Run" met with both critical and box-office success. Fans wondered if the studio would be able to replicate that achievement, but there was no cause for worry. "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is rollicking, frolicking fun, and it's taking prisoners.
The Pirate Captain, voiced by Hugh Grant, is the leader of a band of misfit wannabe pirates. His crew is loyal and will stick by him no matter how many times he loses. His ever-supportive right-hand assistant is played by Martin Freeman. The charm of the Pirate Captain lies in his eternal optimism. He and his crew make attempt after unsuccessful attempt to prove that they are worthy to be called pirates. Where other crews and captains would have given up long ago, the Pirate Captain maintains a cheerful outlook as he brushes off each failure and moves on to the next attempt. This character trait and his innate kindness make him an object of affection for his motley crew.
After their most recent failure, the Pirate Captain decides that he is going to go for it all, and enters the crew in the Pirate of the Year contest. The winning pirate boat will be the one that plunders the most booty. The taunts of the Pirate Captain's arch-rival, Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), make the contest that much harder for the crew. Black Bellamy lives to make fun of the Pirate Captain's every attempted leap for glory. He and lady pirate Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) are the bane of the Pirate Captain's existence and the ones he has to beat in his latest and most important quest for glory.
During his latest attempt at seizing a ship, the Pirate Captain captures Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who instantly realizes that the Pirate Captain's pet parrot, Polly, is actually a dodo bird, long thought to be extinct. Darwin tricks the Pirate Captain into returning to London with him with the intent of entering the dodo into the Scientist of the Year contest. Darwin's real hope is to get close to Queen Victoria, the unsuspecting object of his affection. At this point, the movie makes its dramatic turn towards betrayal, distrust, disappointment, renewal, and ultimately redemption.
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is one of the best family movies of the year. Made by director Lord with that signature Aardman style and humor, the film manages to touch the funny bones of both kids and adults simultaneously. Over the years, Aardman has made movies that used more computer-based animation techniques, but with "Pirates!" the studio goes back to its roots with the stop-motion animation techniques that made it famous.
Just to give some perspective on the level of patience and skill was required to make this film, it took the studio and its crew 18 months or more just to film one detailed scene. The actual ship used in filming weighed in at a whopping 770 pounds. One quarter of a million props and over 250 puppets were used to bring this movie together. The attention to detail is overwhelming, and shows once again that the film has been helmed by not only an animation great, but also a film great.
The film succeeds because the same attention and level of detail that was brought to the visuals went into the story and plot as well. There are multiple layers of twists and turns that will keep everyone guessing. There's plenty of subtle wink-wink humor for the adults, and tons of simpler humor that is just as charming to keep the kiddies howling. There may be a few scenes that will make the children hold their breath in suspense, but it shouldn't be anything that a well-placed, protective arm can't deal with.
Building on the success of the Lord-directed "Chicken Run," "Pirates!" doesn't make the audience choose between a great story and awesome visual effects. The nuances of the stop-motion make it feel every bit as new as regular CGI.