Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for mild Action, Rude Humor and some Language
Directed by: Peter Lord
Written by: Gideon Defoe
(based on the novel THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS by Gideon Defoe)
Voices of: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson, Ashley Jenson, Al Roker
Aardman Animation has become known for their acclaimed and highly successful stop motion shorts. They made their feature debut in 2000 with CHICKEN RUN. That film played out like THE GREAT ESCAPE with poultry and played out as a one-joke film. It was a decent first effort, but Aardman really hit their stride with WALLACE & GROMT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT which stands as one of my personal favorite animated films ever made. The studio went on to do a couple of computer-animated efforts, but THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS is their third Claymation feature. For some reason, this movie just didn’t resonate as well with American audiences as it did with our friends across the pond. It’s really a shame, because PIRATES! is pretty friggin’ great. It’s a piece of animation that will keep kids’ eyes on the screen from the sheer colorful visuals, but also throws in tons of jokes that only adults will understand.
The year is 1837 and the British navy has control of the open sea with one exception. Pirates sail, plunder and pillage wherever they so desire. Many pirates are fearsome, intimidating foes, but this cannot be said of the Pirate Captain. Eager to prove his seaworthiness to his peers, the Pirate Captain aims to win the Pirate of the Year award by getting the most booty that he can, but he’s inept in nearly every way possible. After hijacking Charles Darwin’s ship, the Pirate Captain discovers that his crew’s beloved parrot Polly isn’t actually a parrot. The feathery friend is actually the last living dodo. Trekking into London to win the prize that comes with the Scientist of the Year award, the crew make their way to London in disguise and hijinks ensue.
Unabashedly silly at every turn and clever in more ways than you might initially expect, THE PIRATES! is a beautifully animated family friendly adventure. Most kids may not understand a good portion of the jokes, but I’m reminded of how well MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN did this year and that film relied on tons of history jokes that only adults would recognize. It’s a colorful tale of swashbuckling seadogs that also happens to have brains, hard work put into it, and heart. There is a moral lesson being told (mainly about realizing who your true friends are and not taking them for granted), but it’s not done in a sloppy overly cheesy way. It just happens to be where things are ultimately heading and it certainly helps that lots of laughs populate the trip.
Plenty of familiar voices can be heard from the mouths of these Claymation pirates and other characters. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain and this is the only animated film role in his career thus far. Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins from THE HOBBIT) is Captain’s trusty second-in-command, while David Tennant (who most know from DOCTOR WHO) is wonderful as Charles Darwin. Despite being in her late 50’s, Imelda Staunton is great as the villainous Queen Victoria who has more than a few skeletons in her closest. Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin (if you’re watching the US version) and Brendan Gleeson have rather thankless roles, but are cool appearances nonetheless.
I find myself thinking about certain moments from this movie in between long periods of not watching it and make references to friends who have seen it. There’s certainly a rewatchability factor to this film. I originally saw it in theaters and bought it the week it hit DVD. I’ve since viewed it about half a dozen times. It’s great fun. While it may be absolutely hysterical for adults, I can imagine certain age groups being completely lost during this movie. References to Jane Austen, the Elephant Man, and the inclusion of Charles Darwin as a central character might throw people for the loop. There’s a very British sense of humor around the whole film. If you like WALLACE & GROMIT, Monty Python, or any of the Cornetto trilogy (the latter two are admittedly more R-rated than kiddie fare), then you’ll probably dig THE PIRATES! a lot. There are a few misses in certain jokes and the movie just breezes by at a breakneck pace (almost too fast). The running times is about 80 minutes not counting the credits. All things taken into consideration, this is on the higher scale of family films of which there have been many recent good ones.
THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS is based on the first entry in a series of children’s books and it’s a pity that there won’t be any follow-ups in the future. This is the definition of an overlooked gem. As the years pass, I’ll remember this film fondly with the likes of THE IRON GIANT, RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, and THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. It’s not necessarily a mainstream hit and it will never be. This is the closest thing that you’re likely to get to a Monty Python family film and enjoy it on those merits alone. Subversive, witty, and all-around ridiculous, THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS comes highly recommended! If you haven’t seen it, then do so as soon as you can. If you have, then it’s high time to revisit it. This is the kind of film that only gets the funnier the more you watch it.