The Pirates! Band of Misfits takes place in a nasty little alternate universe.
By LOEY LOCKERBY
Special to The Star
Queen Victoria is a raving psychopath. Charles Darwin is an idiot. And the guy who steals for a living is a lovable outsider, mostly because he doesnt go around randomly stabbing people like his Pirate of the Year competitors. He does aspire to their greatness, though.
Because it was made by Aardman Animations, creators of the legendary Wallace & Gromit series, Pirates has its charms. They tend to come from the aptly named hero Pirate Captain (voiced by a near-unrecognizable Hugh Grant) and his oddball crew, whose members carry monikers like the Albino Pirate and the Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens.
Ostracized by the mean kids of the swashbuckling world, these misfits literally fall into the study of a depressed Darwin (David Tennant), who recognizes Pirate Captains parrot as the last surviving dodo bird. This leads to a scientists competition in London, which is only slightly less deadly than that of the pirates. It also puts them in the path of Her Majesty (Imelda Staunton), who has her own interest in the captains pet.
Veteran Aardman directors Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt fill the screen with the expected clever visual details, and Gideon Defoe, adapting his book The Pirates! in an Adventure With Scientists, offers similarly inventive dialogue.
All the good stuff is around the edges, though, or zooming by so fast, you dont have time to enjoy it. Take Darwins trained chimp, who expresses himself by holding up signs, many of which contain amusing comments on the action. He could have been the movies break-out star. Instead, hes constantly upstaged by all the cutaways to people getting hit in the head (or worse).
As it races frantically to its conclusion, Pirates becomes more mean-spirited than funny, undermining any attempts at a positive message about loyalty and friendship.
Theres nothing wrong with putting some grown-up material in a kids movie, but it should ultimately support the family-friendly tone not scream in its ear while pummeling it to death.
3-D or not 3-D?
Aardmans stop-motion brilliance is clearer and more detailed in two dimensions.
What others are saying
• Nick Pinkerton, Village Voice: The Pirates! hits the usual kids pic stops pop montage, theme-park-ride action, heartwarming affirmation of true friendship but a script that consistently finds fresh outlets for its running gags makes for a sufficiently rollicking pleasure cruise.
• Philip French, the Guardian: The graphic work is charming, the voice casting excellent. Chuckles and smiles rather than plank-walking belly laughs are the order of the day.
• Matt Neal, the Warrnambool Standard (Australia): Maybe it could have been funnier, but its enjoyable, ideal for children of all ages and definitely adult-friendly the kids may not get the references to evolution or the Elephant Man, but Mum and Dad will.