1/06/2012. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
The buried treasure is certainly not hard to find in Aardman Studio’s spry animated 3-D CGI family fable The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Gleefully high-spirited, irreverent, silly-minded and comically shrewd, co-directors Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt helm this delightfully bouncy buccaneer bonfire with an universal appeal that should rope in the cinematic interests of both the children and grown-ups alike.
Piracy platitudes have never been so enjoyable and robust in a sophisticated kiddies’ vehicle that is clever in its offbeat swashbuckling slapstick.
Aardman, the British-based claymation outfit responsible for giddy-minded fare such as the immensely popular man-dog tandem Wallace and Gromit and 2000’s Chicken Run, equally provides the zesty and zany antics that make walking the plank seem like an inviting notion in the fun-inducing and fidgety The Pirates! Band of Misfits.
The story involves a loveable lunkhead of a pirate captain named…get this…Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant). A bit screwy but devoted to his brand of looting and larceny, Pirate Captain is nevertheless highly cherished by his cockeyed crewmates. The main focus is on the annual “Pirate of the Year” contest. Of course Pirate Captain is enthusiastic about the competition and looks forward to claiming victory. Sad to say but Pirate Captain’s shipmates are hopeless oddballs (as a leader Captain is about as sharp as a rusty sword’s dull blade). Still, it will not be an easy task to achieve as his competing pirate participants are indeed formidable.
Among Pirate Captain’s competitors is the cold-hearted but capable cad Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven). Also, the sultry Cutlass Liz (Selma Hayek) is thrown into the mix. Unfortunately for Pirate Captain the aforementioned twosome is in the frontrunner position to win the high seas honors. Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) is an indifferent royal presence who does not shy away from her immense disdain for the intrusive pirates.
Naturally Band of Misfits feature some off-kilter personalities that contribute to the colorful and quirky atmosphere of plundering and pillaging. As Pirate Captain and his cockeyed crew wreak havoc in the Caribbean looking to take the grand prize they invade the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin’s (David Tennant, “Dr. Who”) research vessel. Aboard Darwin’s ship are a bunch of animals serving as both companions and curious experimental fodder. When the opportunistic naturalist Darwin notices Pirate Captain’s portly parrot Polly he realises that the rum-drinking rogue’s mascot is a rare species dodo bird nearing extinction. Soon, Darwin—accompanied by his simian-esque sidekick/assistant—scheme to kidnap Private Captain’s precious Polly. This would be a great opportunity to get into the good graces of an exasperated Queen Victoria for Darwin. He can supply the Queen with a unique prized Polly (via a science fair sponsored by the royal family) for her beloved petting zoo and capitalise on Victoria’s solid hatred for the insufferable scavengers.
Overall, The Pirates! Band of Misfits will intrigue its varying demographics on different levels. From a child’s perspective the pirates will appear as eye-patch-wearing scoundrels that are energetically clownish oozing with cartoonish charm. The teasing of historical references, slightly dark-humored in-jokes/sight gags, and loutish behaviour is definitely reserved for the older bunch that may get a hearty chuckle out of the gentle naughty nuances.
For the most part, the animation is visually pleasing and the characterisations are well-rounded and impishly brilliant. Actually, The Pirates! Band of Misfits could probably give the live action full length film series Pirates of the Caribbean a run for its money in gold nugget guffaws. Armed with a surging soundtrack and rapier wit, this animated send-up of high seas hysteria is indeed contained in a bottle of fun…as in “yo-ho-ho”!
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Sony Pictures)
1 hr. 28 mins.
Starring (the voices of): Hugh Grant, Jeremy Piven, Selma Hayek, Brendan Gleeson, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Martin Freeman, Brian Blessed, Lenny Henry
Directed by: Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: Animation/Children Fantasy
Critic’s Rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)
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