I was quite stoked for The Pirates! Band of Misfits
-- just as I have been for all of Aardman's animated features going back to Chicken Run
-- so I was mildly disappointed to see that it didn't do better at the box office this past weekend. I'm not sure what else is out there as far as family fare is concerned, but if audiences aren't flocking to this film, they're clearly missing out on a real gem of an adventure.
Based on the book series by Gideon Defoe, who also penned the screenplay, The Pirates!
is set during the reign of the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton) and tells the story of the amiable Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), who wants to win the Pirate of the Year award, but doesn't have much of a chance thanks to the crew of misfits he commands. Sure, his number two (Martin Freeman) has a good head on his shoulders, but the same cannot be said for some of the others, which puts him in danger of losing out to his main competition (Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek and Lenny Henry) as usual. That is, of course, until they board the Beagle
and Charles Darwin (David Tennant) identifies Polly, the Captain's "big-boned" parrot, as a dodo and sees it as a chance to be named Scientist of the Year. Funny how those two organizations are giving out their awards around the same time, but you know what the season is like.
From the high seas to high society, Aardman co-founder Peter Lord and his co-director Jeff Newitt keep the action moving along -- that is, when they're not pausing to take in some breathtakingly beautiful scene, as they do periodically -- and cram in tons of gags and visual jokes. (My favorite is probably the brief cameo by the Elephant Man.) Some of the jokes may be more obvious than I expect from Aardman, but it's impossible to quarrel with a film that casts Brian Blessed as the Pirate King. The first time the character was mentioned, I should have known that was who would be playing him.