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The Pirates! Band of Misfits

A 2012 film directed by Peter Lord

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Delightful new Aardman Animations feature with a rare multi-generational appeal.

  • Sep 16, 2012
*** out of ****

Aardman Animations is best known as the production company responsible for films such as "Chicken Run" and the "Wallace and Gromit" films. Both are pretty big parts of my early childhood (I saw the former when it was in theaters and loved it, and watched the W&G shorts in the comfort of my home once they came out on DVD and VHS at a fairly young age), although somehow the studio has escaped me lately. Apparently, Aardman was responsible for the likes of "Flushed Away" and the recent "Arthur Christmas". I'd heard of their "Pirates! Band of Misfits" mostly through word-of-mouth alone; reviews and recommendations here and there. When I learned that Aardman was behind it, I had to see it in order to relive some sweet childhood memories through a more modern technique.

So did it work? The answer is yes, it worked rather miraculously. "Pirates" embodies just about everything that was so good about the initial Aardman features but in smaller doses. If I had to guess, it's not their best film and doesn't quite live up to their standards depending on how high those of the individual viewer happen to be, but it's still a lot of fun to watch in spite of itself. It is ridiculously simple and will therefore appeal to a family audience; but there are good family films and then there are terrible ones. "Pirates" is clever and colorful enough to engage adults and children alike; which is precisely why it's such an absolute delight.

Set in 1837, the film follows the exploits of a sea-faring pirate known only as The Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant), who pillages the open ocean along with his crew and spectacularly out-of-date pirate ship. He seldom comes back with the handsome riches that the more superior (and widely "wanted") pirates do, but is still hopeful that one day he will win the Pirate of the Year competition and finally make a name for himself. He's convinced himself that the pirate lifestyle is more than just the riches, but desire has alas taken over him. The Captain gets what appears to be his chance at fame when he and his crew pillage the ship of the love-sick scientist Charles Darwin (voice of David Tennant).

In the process of being forced to walk the plank, Darwin is able to save his own skin by revealing to the Captain that his prized parrot (or big bird, as the Captain likes to call it) is not really a parrot at all, but rather a Dodo Bird, thought to be extinct. Darwin intends to take it back to London with him in order to showcase it to Queen Victoria (voice of Imelda Staunton) so that he may get recognized for his supposed brilliance and receive the sort of womanly attention that he's always desired. But he must first get the bird; and besides, the Captain and his crew take a liking to the concept of becoming scientists and getting themselves a little bit of acclaim.

This is, of course, an incredibly well-realized world. Stop-motion animation often has the ability to seamlessly produce those. The film is quite literally animated by a talented voice cast of mostly British actors (including Martin Freeman) and then some (Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven as rival pirates, Anton Yelchin as an albino pirate that is a part of the Captain's crew, and Brendan Gleeson as a heavier-set member). Hugh Grant's voice work is perhaps the biggest contribution; his reading of the dialogue is quick, snappy, efficient, and obviously very funny. The same could be said for the film in its entirety. It's short, sweet, and to the point; and managed to get quite a few laughs out of me (blending absurdist humor with a few more adult-oriented jokes thrown in for good measure, and then there's the Elephant Man returning to the screen yet again, a few brief seconds at a time). It also has a surprisingly good soundtrack...so there's that. "Pirates! Band of Misfits" may not be the best Aardman has to offer, but it's still swashbuckling animated fun with a multi-generational appeal, and for that I recommend it.

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September 25, 2012
This being made by the folks who made "Chicken Run" is enough for me to make time to see it. I agree, sometimes we all need something that is short and sweet...nice one, Ryan.
September 17, 2012
Good detailed review on an irreverent movie!
September 17, 2012
More The Pirates! Band of Misfits reviews
review by . April 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         The Pirates! Band of Misfits is charmingly irreverent, a triumph of stop-motion animation, and a decent 3D spectacle, although I’m unable to determine which audience it’s intended for. I have a sneaking suspicion that both children and their parents or guardians will not quite know what to make of it. The former will probably respond to the bright colors (which will be even brighter in traditional 2D) and the cartoon slapstick, but it’s …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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