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'Pirates' brings home the loot

Posted: May 3, 2012 - 9:28am
AP Photo/Aardman Animation for Sony Pictures Animation
In this film image, the cast is shown in a scene from “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”

"The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
Aardman Animation
1 hour, 28 minutes

After sitting for an hour and a half with my 4-year-old in the dark behind 3D glasses watching the latest stop-motion animated feature from the folks who make "Wallace and Grommit," this time a sea-faring adventure about a lovable band of goofy pirates, I have to admit that I was a little surprised at his succinct review.

"So, did you like the movie?" I ask, fully expecting a rousing "Yay!"
"No. Not really ... I didn't like the lady who hates pirates."

The lady in reference is a shrill version of Queen Victoria who spends much of her screen-time banging on the table screaming loudly that She Hates Pirates! Sometimes with cutlery. I guess I was surprised that my boy didn't care for the movie, but I shouldn't have been, considering the time we spend at our house teaching him that it's not nice to scream or bang on the table, especially while loudly declaring that you hate something. Makes sense to me.

For a slightly older set, however, I think parents will find "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" to be charming and accessible, if not terribly clever. Our story revolves around a plucky crew of buccaneers who are distinguished less for the mayhem they cause than by their obvious affection for each other. The pirates are exceedingly likeable and funny and sweet, so it's no wonder my son didn't appreciate someone yelling at them.

The film begins in 1837, with our heroes, led by The Pirate Captain, making their way to Blood Island (so-named because it's shaped exactly like a bunch of blood) for the annual Pirate of the Year Awards. The Pirate Captain is certain he can win it this time around, until his confidence is gradually eroded by the arrival of three even higher-profile pirates, the last emerging directly from the gullet of a white whale stuffed with gold doubloons.

Turns out the Captain is a bit of a laughing stock. Pride wounded, he declares that he'll win the award no matter what, and sets off to do some record-breaking pirating. Unfortunately, he and his crew just aren't very good and after unsuccessful attempts at looting a plague-ship and an elementary school field trip, the Captain decides to throw in the towel.

Naturally, it's right about that time that our heroes run across an unassuming little science vessel occupied by one Charles Darwin. Darwin, a tweedy intellectual, has no loot either, but he does happen to notice something very interesting. The Captain's parrot, Polly (naturally) is not a parrot at all, but an actual dodo -- a large flightless bird thought to have gone extinct a century earlier. Polly's presentation at the Royal Academy of Science promises to be worth untold riches and fame. For the Pirate Captain, this could put him over the top at the Pirate of the Year Awards, but for Darwin there's a more personal agenda. He just happens to be in love with the aforementioned Queen Victoria and this dodo discovery could win her heart forever.

This all leads, of course, to wacky antics, surprises, twists and turns, and overall, a very funny movie.

The animation is top-notch, especially considering the hand-made, stylized feel that claymation offers. I'm sure some of this was computer generated, but I'd be hard pressed to pick it out.

The writing is fine, and the voice actors all do a nice job of bringing their character to life without drawing attention to themselves. Case in point: The Pirate Captain is played by Hugh Grant. I had no idea, until the credits rolled. I guess that begs the question of whether it made financial sense to hire a big star like Grant to voice a role he completely disappears into, but that's for the accountants to argue out.

My one major complaint, and I know I sound like a broken record, was the 3D. It wasn't awful or anything, but it added nothing to the story whatsoever. In fact, it detracted because the picture was so much dimmer as a result of the glasses.

There were a few scenes where it was obvious there was no 3D, so I took off the glasses, and the screen was so much brighter and vibrant that I couldn't believe it. With all the hew and cry about 3D lately, I'm kind of surprised they keep making these movies, but I guess it takes a little while for public outcry to trickle down to Hollywood.

One thing's for certain, though, I'll be seeking out a non-3D screening of next week's "The Avengers." I'd recommend the same thing for "The Pirates," as well as maybe taking your post-K kids, instead of the pre-K ones.

Grade: B+

"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is rated PG for mild rude humor and cartoon violence. Also for a mean Queen who yells a lot.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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