A ship full of loony pirates are trying to get their Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) into the prestigious Pirate of the Year contest, in this stop-motion animation comedy. It seems that every year, pirates step forward to declare who has stolen the most booty (as in money, not okole) and caused the most ruckus on the high seas. This being from the creators of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, these pirates are all a loveable, rowdy bunch but they’re more underdogs than respected seamen and their feats of daring aren’t nearly as impressive as, say, the pirate who shows up wherever he goes riding a whale. What Pirate Captain and his crew really need to do is get their ship together (a pun not out of place in a movie like this).
Director Peter Lord is not only responsible for keeping a unique brand of stop motion animation alive but for giving us the brilliant Shaun the Sheep, truly one of the best and funniest shows that adults will happily watch with their children. The same can be said of the other works from the Aardman Animation studios but this latest movie is, sadly, a disappointment.
More amusing than funny, it begins well but settles for too many easy, cornball gags and not enough real laughs. Most of the funniest bits are the throwaway sight gags, like a clever jab at Madagascar or any of the business going on in the background. Even an impressive, flat out amazing voice cast doesn’t always shine, as they’re saddled with dialogue more cheesy than anything else.
Grant’s acid wit is sorely missed, though Jeremy Piven, playing a rival pirate, brings his expected bravado. Curiously, while most of the characters look nothing like their real life counterparts, Martin Freeman (who’s about to break out in a big way starring in The Hobbit this December) looks exactly like his Pirate with Scarf, Pirate Captain’s sidekick. Salma Hayek, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton and David Tennant also provide voice work, but neither their efforts nor their characters leave an impression.
The animation at hand is as dazzling as ever; the technique is so seamless and the characters so expressive, it’s easy to forget you’re watching a clever melding of stop motion work for the characters and computer work for some of the backgrounds. If you watch the figures in the background of every scene and focus on the ones who are listening and not talking, you’ll see that everyone appears vividly alive and responsive.
The action is sometimes overly manic and cluttered, and there are odd touches, like infusing “London Calling” by The Clash without real reason, and jokes about Jane Austen, John Merrick and albinos. It may be lively enough for most kids but attempts to reach their parents with jokes about The Elephant Man feels forced, even wrong-headed. Adding Charles Darwin as a character leads to strange jokes about kidneys and the Galapagos Islands that will amuse those familiar with Darwin, but will children find evolution jokes funny?
It lacks the gentle genius and kind hearted humor of Aardman’s best works and won’t fulfill a pirate jones for fans of Captain Jack Sparrow (an easy target the film strangely never touches). A couple of clever moments and mild chuckles aside, there’s nothing here that isn’t worth waiting to see on DVD and that includes the barely noticeable 3D. The characters are all boisterous but no one steps up and takes charge of the film, which is like a pirate ship without a captain.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Rated PG;88 Min.