You know a family film is doing it right when they make it look effortless-yet-awe-inspiring, and when it makes the parade of mediocre sequels and spin-offs to a certain fractured fairy tale look that much worse.
Aardman’s “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (known as “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!” across the pond) is one of those movies that is so impeccably crafted in the realms of plot and visual splendor that you can’t help but let the world they’ve created wash over you.
Hugh Grant dons his most dashing voice to fill the role of Pirate Captain, a straightforwardly-named buccaneer who wants nothing more than to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award, so that he might gain some respect from his peers. Unfortunately, the stiff competition has gotten his spirits down, but it doesn’t prevent him from (unsuccessfully) trying to plunder as much as possible anyway.
When he attacks a ship carrying a depressed, lovelorn Charles Darwin (voiced by the great David Tennant), the scientist informs Pirate Captain that his prized parrot, Polly, is, in fact, the thought-extinct dodo bird. Darwin mentions that taking Polly to London would be a shoo-in for the Scientist of the Year award. Smelling potential riches, Pirate Captain sets sail to grab the glory even if it means heading into the dangerous territory controlled by the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
Aardman released their first all-computer animated film in 2006, “Flushed Away.” Given that the studio is known for the human touch they provide with their unique brand of stop-motion animation, moving away from that was a mistake. “The Pirates!” provides a happy medium, utilizing CGI to build a richer world on top of the beautiful sets and characters they’ve built.
And unlike last year’s all-CGI effort “Arthur Christmas,” it manages to retain Aardman’s charming, signature look, and the film they’ve made is their most visually delicious yet.
What’s just as impressive as Aardman’s always-incredible animation, though, is the script, which is paced to perfection, and has an impressive level of gag writing on par with recent comedy gold like “Hot Fuzz. The humor is packed so tight that it merits multiple sittings, there simply isn’t a lazy bone in this film’s body. Those boring pirate movies with Johnny Depp’s sashaying metro-guyliner appear more worthless every day.
For your money, this is the best big new release you could possibly see that’s coming to theaters this weekend. C’mon, you know you’d rather see awesome claymated pirates than John Cusack do his best imaginary Edgar Allan Poe impression. Besides, this way you don’t have to hire a babysitter.