[Review] – The Pirates! Band Of Misfits

28 Apr

Title: The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Year: 2012
Directors: Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt
Writer: Gideon Defoe, based on his own books
Starring: Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson
MPAA Rating: PG, mild action, rude humor and some language
Runtime: 88 min
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Metacritic: 73

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is Aardman Animations fifth feature-length film, and the second under their current deal with Sony Pictures Animation. And once again they continue their streak of impeccable animation. I remember that after seeing their 2011 effort, Arthur Christmas (which I gave an A- to), I kind of wanted them to go back to the claymation that they are known for, instead of keep dabbling in CG like they did in that film and in the one prior to that one, Flushed Away. And in The Pirates! Band of Misfits they manage to blend the two together, using their stop-motion animation technique alongside quite a bit of CG to complement that spectacularly in how they built the sceneries and extended their sets. And not only is this so expertly made, but it also keeps the studio’s reputation for providing us with some of the smartest animated fare out there.

That really is something that sets these movies apart, the fact that they are smart. Animated films are generally seen as targeted at kids, and with good reason because kids are the ones most inclined to see them. But then you have studios like Pixar, Ghibli and Aardman that make animated films that appeal to people of all ages because of how smart the jokes are, how technically impressive they are, and how much detail goes into the little clever sight gags. And even if The Pirates! Band of Misfits doesn’t match up against the Nick Park movies from this studio, it’s still a film that achieves everything it set out to do, and maybe while you’re watching it you won’t realize just how smart it is because you’ll be laughing and enjoying the adventure side of it all, but trust me, this film has one high IQ level for an animated film.

Hugh Grant voices The Pirate Captain, a really ambitious, though not really all that skilled, captain of a ship full of equally unskilled crewmen. His dream has always been to outdo his most hated rivals and win the coveted Pirate of the Year Award, and in the quest to do just that we’ll follow him as he meets a young scientist by the name of Charles Darwin and encounter the pirate-hating Queen Victoria. What brings Darwin into the equation is that he’s at the same ship that the pirates get into, and he realizes that what the pirates thought was their mandatory parrot was actually the last living dodo. Darwin of course wants it so that he can become a famous, and he tells The Pirate Captain that this might also be the way to get all the treasure he needs to win the award.

Everything that comes as soon as the film begins is just wildly inventive, and if I have any complaint to make is the same one I had with Arthur Christmas, and it’s the fact that I maybe found that they tried to jam in a bit too much awesome stuff into the short eighty-eight minutes and it ended up feeling a bit too busy. But still, it’s awesome to have the story about a crew of pirates who do pirate-y things, but are just mostly easygoing guys, who are not particularly all that good at their jobs, and seem to be more in love with the idea of being a pirate than they are with the actual fact of being one.

The approach this one takes is just truly great. It’s the typical British comedy that’s just super self-aware and dry, and when you put that into this slight-historical perspective in which we get Charles Darwin as a fame-hungry guy with trouble with the ladies, and a Queen Victoria who’s royal crest simply says “I Hate Pirates”, you know you’re going to get some seriously funny stuff. It’s just super silly fun with really fast action-y sequences, some dream sequences and really nice use of music (including a Flight of the Conchords song!); and it’s all done in the impeccable Aardman tradition, and all of the above should more than enough reason for you to go watch this film.

I really do love what this studio does time after time. Their character design is exquisite and you just know that they were made it all with a lot of love, every single frame carries a lot of really sensational detail, the jokes are super smart, and the sight gags that are happening at the same times as the jokes are being said are even smarter. Parents, I would venture to say, will actually have more fun than their kids when they go see this one. Just seeing this film, how ambitious it is in its technical scope and how perfectly it’s all made will get you to really love it.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is not a perfect film, but so far it is the single best animated effort we’ve had in 2012 so far. I didn’t see it in 3D so I can’t say how that worked out, and I reckon some Aardman purists will hate that extra dimension; but I did see how using some digital stuff to go along with their usual claymation helped out in more than a few occasions. You have the benefits of the new technology to go along with the characters made out of clay that you can just tell were made with so much love by the animators and feel great (none more so than the awesome Mr. Bobo, the monkey assistant to Charles Darwin). Aardman has done it again, it’s charmed the hell out of kids and grown-ups alike, and I can’t wait to see what they give us next.

Grade: A-


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