dir: Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt
Ah, finally, a film with Pirates that doesn’t have Johnny Depp in it.
No-one told the lovely people at Aardman Animation that the rest of us in this non-Claymation world are sick to fucking death of pirates, pirate-related stories and even the word ‘pirate’. They just went ahead and ploughed through, adapting a book in order to generate some hilarity and some box office. I can’t imagine this flick is going to do this well, what with the school holidays being over and all by now, but it was quite entertaining for a ‘kids’ movie.
Yes, I took my daughter along, and yes, she and I both thought it was a wonderful way to spend an hour and twenty minutes in a cinema strewn with beanbags. But don’t go in expecting it to be comparable to Pixar, or for any deep environmental messages or heartfelt heartstring-pulling mawkish sentiment-fests. It’s just meant to be clever but goofy fun, and it entirely succeeds.
Although, when I tell you that two of the villains in the piece are Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria, you’ll think that I’ve been sucked in and duped by a flick produced by creationists and anti-monarchist nutbags, which would be a strange alliance indeed.
I have loved the Aardman animated movies, ‘specially the Wallace and Grommet stuff, for a donkey’s age, but I still find their continued existence in this high falutin' day and age somewhat surprising. Surprising in a good way, but I just find that stop-motion animation something that contemporary kids, who have rarely if ever seen that stuff, would find it too ye olde worldy.
There's a charm to it, a physical charm, an expressiveness that is illusive and probably really difficult to achieve, that they do, nonetheless. And it's refreshing to see, after all the goddamn CGI 1s and 0s I've been subjecting myself and my heir to lately.
Having said all that, what I found most enjoyable about the flick were the visual gags (as in the opening seconds, where a title card explaining the time and place is revealed to be being held up by a confused looking chap), the strange Science! based story, and especially the character of the Pirate Captain voiced by Hugh Grant.
Even in our current age where pirate-weariness is at an all-time high, the underlying 'dumb' premise of the story, being the Pirate Captain's fervent wish to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award, leads to a perplexing adventure as the Captain and the crew try to safeguard the most exceptional member of said crew, being Polly. Polly's called a parrot at first, but Polly is actually a dodo, thought extinct for a long while. When they cross paths with Charles Darwin, who reveals himself to be something of a rum cove with a crush on a Queen, it appears the crew have a more fearsome opponent on their hands than just the potential shame of losing.
The crew in any one of these endeavours would be a motley bunch, but this bunch is even more motley than expected. They have names that describe their purpose or a trait about them, like the suspiciously feminine Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, or Pirate with Gout, or No.2. And the Pirate Captain's name is Pirate Captain. All ever so helpful and unambiguous. You know where you stand with names like that.
Most of all, there's a really deft hand at play, lightly dancing over the script. The Pirate Captain gets the majority of the best of the lines, deliciously delivered by Hugh Grant, with all the delusional smugness and braggadocio we've always prized him for. He's not a very good captain, in fact he totally sucks at it compared to the other pirates he is in competition with, who seem to drip with plundered gold and pillaged booty. The problem is that the rest of the crew, who like him well enough, sense that he's pretty much a failure.
But when he launches out with top speed to ravage the Caribbean, with braced stunsails and spankers aloft, all he ends up finding is plague ships, leprosiacs (sorry, sufferers of Hanson's Disease) and biologists.
That's not going to win you the trophy. That's not going to best the likes of Black Bellamy, Cutlass Liz or Peg Leg Hastings, who are the other pirates vying for the title.
As absurd as I found the whole story, when the Pirate King came onto the scene, and started yelling at everyone, I was thrilled. Thrilled I say, because the Pirate King, who chooses the winner of the Pirate of the Year Award, was voiced by none other than Brian Blessed. Brian Blessed is one of the greatest, loudest bearded men who have ever lived and loved, and I adore his very existence. And, since I've seen him in everything from Flash Gordon to Blackadder, I've known and adored his bearded big bellied ways for an aeon. When I heard his voice I said to my daughter, "That's Brian Blessed's voice! He's awesome!"
To which she must have replied "Oh grow up, Dad."
Still, it's Hugh Grant's show, and he carries it all, whether talking about his luxuriant beard, or wondering out loud how to screw over his crew in order to get the fleeting and meaningless respect he so thoroughly doesn't deserve. He's perhaps not the nicest chap in the world, and he doesn't mean well, but as the pride that goeth before the fall teaches him the importance of sticking up for your mates, naturally the story crafts elaborate and dangerous ways for him to make it up to his adoring crew.
Every story needs a big bad, apparently, and this one's big bad is Queen Victoria, who far from being the monstrous and stern figure of renown, is a svelte and lethal swordswoman with a (culinary) fetish for exotic and virtually extinct flesh. How she gets involved I'll leave to the prospective viewer. Let's just say she really, really, really, really hates pirates.
And who can blame her; the no-good scavengers and vultures of the sea were never this nice. This Band of Misfits, though, they were a pleasure to spend some time with, and since my daughter and I were delighted with the end result, surely the flick worked on both age levels.
8 times I wondered when the Surprisingly Curvaceous pirate was going to make her move out of 10
" Behind every captain, there's a crew. Sure, some of you are as ugly as a sea cucumber, some of you are closer to being a chair or coat rack than a pirate, and some of you are fish I've just dressed up in a hat..." - thrizzling speech, captain – The Pirates! Band of Misfits