I am the very model of a modern major… how does that go again?
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is the latest from Aardman the animation studio that brought us the Wallace and Gromit films. This one, however, was not made by W&G creator Nick Park, but by the other Aardman co-founder, Peter Lord. (No, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator. That’s Peter Laird.) Wallace and Gromit fans, don’t let the bounce go from your bungee. The Pirates! might not feature your favorite inventing duo, but it’s a treasure trove of high seas fun.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant, Two Weeks Notice) wants to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award, but he faces big competition from other, more competent pirates. When the Captain and his crew meet a famous scientist (David Tennant, Doctor Who), the scientist comes across a discovery that could lead to untold riches and the big award. One problem, though: In order to present their discovery to the world’s scientists, the pirates and their brainy new friend must travel to the heart of London and straight into the presence of Queen Victoria (Imelda Stanton, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), the sworn enemy of all pirates.
The Pirates! is a confident film, finding just the right level of comedy and then maintaining it. This is madcap comedy, with rapid fire jokes and sight gags everywhere. Yet, it never gets too madcap, so that we never lose sight of the necessities like plot and character development. No matter how outrageous things get—and they do get outrageous—you find yourself caring for these characters and rooting for them to succeed.
About that outrageousness: These are definitely “anything goes” laughs. A few map sequences offer a lot of great visual gags, as do a few slapstick chase scenes. A highlight is a runaway bathtub tumbling through a house (that sentence will make sense when you see the movie, I promise). The pace is quick, with the pirates zipping from one screwball adventure to the next, but it’s never so fast that it confuses or exhausts the viewer. In other words, the filmmakers know the exact tone they want, they achieve it, and they keep it consistent throughout the movie.
Hugh Grant disappears into the role of the Pirate Captain, so much so that if you didn’t know it was him, you never would have guessed it. He’s all about the wild enthusiasm and love of adventure. The affection he has for his crew feels genuine. The other pirates are made up of various types, such as the “gout pirate,” the “albino pirate,” and the “surprisingly curvaceous pirate,” yet each has his or her own story to tell, no matter how small. The Pirate Captain’s two rivals for the award get big intros but not a lot of screentime, but they are memorable characters as well. Other well-known actors join the fray, including Martin Freeman (Sherlock), Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Salma Hayek (Dogma), the immortally awesome Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon), and even TV star Al Roker (The Today Show).
I love stop motion animation. The clay figures on the physical sets give the visuals a texture and even a slight roughness that not even the finest CGI can truly replicate. The Aardman folks are among the world’s stop motion elite, as demonstrated by this movie. Yes, there is CGI, notably in shots of the ships at sea, because water is infamously difficult to animate in stop motion. The character animation, though, is a delight, as the animators tease a lot of acting and personality out the clay armatures. The attention to detail is remarkable, and the big set pieces will take your breath away.
All that detail sparkles on Blu-ray, with the 2.35:1/1080p picture bringing out the best in the bright colors and the textured animation. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, which includes several upbeat pop songs and a rousing score by Theodore Shapiro (Tropic Thunder), shines as well, balanced nicely among all the speakers and booming throughout the room. Alternate language tracks in French (DTS-HD 5.1), Spanish (Dolby 5.1), and English Descriptive for the visually impaired (Dolby 5.1) are also available.
This three disc set contains a bounty of bonus features. Disc One is the 3D Blu-ray, Disc Two is the 2D Blu-ray, and Disc Three is the standard definition DVD.
• 3-D version. To watch the movie in 3D, you need a 3D television, a 3D Blu-ray player, compatible 3D glasses, and a special HDMI cable, all sold separately. If you can afford all that, maybe you should win Pirate of the Year.
• Filmmakers commentary. Peter Lord and company go over the movie, talking about some of the challenges they faced in the animation, and pointing out a lot of the more subtle jokes built into the backgrounds.
• So You Want To Be A Pirate—This short film has the Pirate Captain hosting his own talk show, with other characters of the movie stopping to a chat. It’s fun, but goes on for a little too long.
• Short films by Peter Lord—A few other animated shorts directed by Lord. Some good stuff here.
• From Stop to Motion—A fairly detailed featurette about the stop motion animation process.
• Bubbles of Fun—A close up look the complexities of filming the bathtub chase scene.
• Pirate Dress Up—An interactive game you can play with your remote.
• Mr. Bobo’s Flash Card Challenge—Another game for your remote. This one is located only on the DVD.
• DVD-ROM link—Gateway to more extras about the movie online. This too is located only on the DVD.
• UltraViolet Copy—A streaming version of the film for your portable devices.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a fun time at the movies. The next time you want an upbeat “feel-good” flick, give it a spin.