Aardman have been best known for their signature style and production of Wallace and Gromit over the years, however, their latest effort, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! is definitely one of the better, more contemporary efforts by the British animation studio. Whilst Wallace and Gromit had a very English sensibility to its humour and Chicken Run stood as the company’s attempt to succeed in the States thanks to Mel Gibson’s participation, The Pirates has that universal appeal to audiences of all ages, everywhere.
Based on the book series by Gideon Defoe, The Pirates boasts a star-studded cast…or should we say crew, which makes for a short yet fun-packed 88 minutes despite its five-year creation.
Hugh Grant ditches the romantic leads and love interests by taking the sea as his mistress, voicing the aptly named Pirate Captain. With his crew of misfits, including his loyal first mate, Pirate with Scarf (Martin Freeman), the yellow-bearded ‘woman disguised as a man’ Surprisingly Curvacious Pirate (Ashley Jensen), the bumbling Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) and the dopey Albino Pirate (Russel Tovey) in tow; the gang head to Blood Island to enter the annual Pirate Of The Year competition.
It turns out that the glossy-bearded one, Pirate Captain hopes to win Pirate of The Year, sailing the seven seas and plundering a boat-load of booty. However, it is revealed that the ham-loving and hopeless Pirate Captain has failed each year to win the title and is a laughing stock among his peers for his decrepit ship, lack of treasures, boring adventures and overweight pet ‘parrot’ i.e. a Dodo bird named Polly.
Disheartened, the Captain and his crew attempt to prove the fearsome pirates Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) that he has what it takes. However, their adventure takes a strange turn when they pillage the ship of a young scientist, Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and his trained monkey-butler Mr. Bobo. In awe at the sight of the un-extinct Polly, Darwin propositions Pirate Captain to take her to show the scientists of Victorian London – in a ploy for Darwin to meet the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately for this motley crew, the girl of his dreams is Queen Victoria herself; (Imelda Staunton) a woman who ferociously hates pirates.
The film itself is short but sweet and one must give in to the first five or so minutes before getting to the real laugh out loud jokes. As well as all the neat little references (look out for the signs advertising sports such as ‘cockney baiting’ and ‘urchin tossing’) and ‘grown up’ jokes (‘this invention is mainly useful for looking down ladies tops’), the film is generally very light humoured and perfect for kids. This time round, Aardman have managed to strike just the right balance between adult and childlike humour seen in other successful animated comedies such as Shrek or Toy Story.
Particularly genius moments include the subtly hilarious way that Mr. Bobo expresses himself through subtitle cards to compensate for his lack of speech and the comical travelling sequences.. Then there’s the downright bizarre antics of our dear Pirates. HAM night?! Surely that should be mandatory for everyone?
However, The Pirates is just short of being great as it does feel like there is something missing, though it’s difficult to pinpoint what. Nonetheless, rumours of a sequel are already in motion.
Overall, this is a surprisingly smart little movie. For what it lacks in the sensationalism, marketing pizazz and drama of Disney’s Pirates of The Caribbean franchise, it sure makes up for it with gags, high quality celebrity casting and eye-pleasing claymation visuals.
Best lines: ‘Name three elements.’
‘Gold, ham and the tears of a mermaid.’
‘Two out of three. Not bad.’
Best character: Mr. Bobo.
Most recognisable vocal appearance: Look out for a bellowing Brian Blessed!
Best bit: The unsuccessful attempts to pillage passing ships.
Best soundtrack contribution: Flight of the Conchords.
Watch out for: The funny little photographs and signs placed strategically around the Captain’s ship, London, the tavern on Blood Island and a sneaky Blue Peter badge pinned on one of the pirate’s hats.