Directed by: Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt.
Written by: Gideon Defoe
Starring: Hugh Grant (The Pirate Captain), Martin Freeman (The Pirate with a Scarf), Imelda Staunton (Queen Victoria), David Tennant (Charles Darwin), Jeremy Piven (Black Bellamy), Salma Hayek (Cutlass Liz), Lenny Henry (Peg Leg Hastings), Brian Blessed (The Pirate King), Anton Yelchin (The Albino Pirate), Brendan Gleeson (The Pirate with Gout), Ashley Jensen (The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate), Al Roker (The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens).
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a very much a British film – and I mean that in the best way possible. The folks who work at Aardman – and created Wallace and Gromitt among others – never quite rush like their American counterparts do. So often animated movies aimed at children whiz by so fast that they leave me tired by the end – no time is taken to make the screenplay anything more than an excuse to string one brightly colored scene to another, and the visual creations just don’t feel real. But Aardman has always been different – yes, they are shooting in digital know, and use computers to do at least some of their animation (not as much here as in Flushed Away), but their movies still feel hand made. Their characters are made out Play-Doh, or something very much like it anyway, and while you cannot see the literal fingerprints here, as you can on some other Aardman creations, you can feel them. The visual touches in The Pirates! Band of Misfits are so lovingly created, that the lift the entire movie. No, The Pirates! Band of Misfits doesn’t rise to the level of the best Aardman movies – but it’s still much better than most animated films I see.
The movie is about The Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant, with impeccable comic timing), who feels this is the year where he’ll finally win Pirate of the Year. He has been passed over so many times that he feels he is due. Never mind that his competitors – in particular Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) have pillaged much more booty than he has. He is determined to win. So, The Pirate Captain and his ragtag crew – who are more lovable than scary – set out to pillage once again – and wind up empty handed, until they raid a boat called The Beagle, and meet a young Charles Darwin – a buffoon who worries he’ll never get a girlfriend. Darwin informs the Pirate captain that his beloved parrot Polly isn’t a parrot after all – but a dodo, once thought extinct. Darwin convinces the Pirate captain to set sail for London, where they will surely win the top prize at the annual Scientist of the Year awards. The only problem is that Queen Victoria hates pirates with an absurd passion – and also has a healthy appetite for exotic animals.
The movie has a very British sense of humor – it doesn’t bang you over the head with its jokes, but is filled with witty one liners throughout, and are delivered by a cast to near perfection. Hugh Grant is an odd choice to play a pirate, but perhaps not this pirate – because The Pirate captain is so genial and put upon, so riddled with insecurity that he tries so hard to mask, that Grant is actually the perfect choice. Martin Freeman is the voice of reason as his Number 2, who tries so hard to get The Pirate Captain to see what he has. David Tennant is perfect as Darwin, not quite as smart as you may think. Jeremy Piven is obviously a bad guy the second he opens his mouth and his brash, American voice comes out. Best of all is Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria – playing the villain here much like she did in Harry Potter, with her kind voice masking inner brutality. The movie draws parallels between Victoria’s imperialism and pirates, but doesn’t dwell on it – it makes its point in the background, and then moves on.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits isn’t as good as the best work Aardman has done – but perhaps that’s an unfair comparison. Not every Pixar movie can be Wall-E – and not every Aardman movie can be Wallace and Gromitt. I have a feeling kids won’t quite like this one as much as the non-stop action of American animated film – they’ll be entertaining but not overjoyed. Their parents, however, will have a much better time.