Friday, April 27, 2012

You Had Me At Arrrr: “The Pirates! Band of Misfits”

There’s an innocent, wonderfully unawares brand of daftness that operates throughout The Pirates! Band of Misfits. The British do silly very well. And this is a very silly (insane) film. It’s directed by Aardman Animation’s own Peter Lord, who directed Chicken Run and the short Wat’s Pig (a particular favorite of mine).

But if you ask me, the look of the film is strictly Nick Park, creator of the lovable Wallace and Gromit series. The Pirates! characters have the same wide mouths, large hands, and tiny bead eyes popularized by Park. And I’m not complaining. In the work of Nick Park (and the work of self-respecting clay animators everywhere) you can see the human hands and fingerprints of the modelers who made and manipulate these wondrous folk. You won’t see a better animated film this year (or next, probably). The sets are filled with wry details in a style you’ll recognize from other Aardman films. You can view our behind the scenes slideshow here. And luckily, the end credit crawl includes a closer peek at details from the sets. It’s impossible to appreciate them all in one quick viewing.

This film pokes fun—often in a meaningful way—at England’s age of empire and romantic pirate lore. But like any good period film, it also skewers the present day including our obsession with fame and celebrity. At the heart of the story is the Pirate Captain’s (hilariously voiced by Hugh Grant) yearning to win the Pirate of the Year Award. His hopes are dashed by much abler and more successful pirates. His spirit is lifted and his hopes raised by none other than Charles Darwin himself who promises him fame and fortune and a top prize in science as the unintentional discoverer of the long-thought-extinct dodo bird. It’s a discovery that “makes electricity look like a pile of crap.”

Only problem is—the Academy of Science is in London, home to Queen Victoria, legendary enemy of pirates. When Queen Victoria complains about pirates, she surveys a map of her vast global empire, the greatest pirate who ever lived. I love the way this film makes Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin the baddies. Imelda Staunton and David Tennant voice these characters with passion. And Martin Freeman is spot-on as the voice of “Pirate with a Scarf” better known as “Number Two” in the Captain Pirate’s crew. You may know Freeman as Tim from the original British series, The Office, and if you don’t, stop everything and see The Office right away.

Young kids will enjoy The Pirates! Band of Misfits, but not quite as much as YOU will. The sly humor works on many levels, not all accessible to young kids. Still, it’s a rip-roaring adventure and in the words of the Pirate Captain, “It’s only impossible if you think about it.”

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is rated PG for “mild action, rude humor, and some language” but I honestly didn’t find anything objectionable for even the youngest moviegoers. If your kids can sit through a feature-length film, they’ll find something to love here.

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