The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (a.k.a. The Pirates! Band of Misfits), 2012.
Directed by Peter Lord.
Featuring the voice talents of Hugh Grant, Lenny Henry, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Piven, Brian Blessed, Salma Hayek, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Martin Freeman and Ashley Jensen.
A motley crew of pirates set out to compete in the annual Pirate of the Year contest.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? No...hang on...wrong pirate-related intro. It’s along the right lines, though. The same gung-ho, nautical nonsense operating procedure that powers the mighty Spongebob Squarepants machine is exactly what you can expect to find in this tale of high seas robbery and luxuriant beard discussions. And it’s about time something as unashamedly fun as this came along.
You’d be forgiven for immediately thinking of the over-egged, over-budgeted, totally overboard Pirates of the Caribbean franchise when somebody mentions the ‘P’ word. Sit through the Disneyland ride, buy the authentic leather-tooled hat, see the 3 hour long film. In that order. Banish such bum-numbing marketing strategies from your mind with regards to The Pirates. These boys (and possibly girl) are Pirates with a capital ‘P’ and a hearty ‘arrr’ to finish most sentences.
Most things they do are hearty, really. They are incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about being pirates. The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is their leader and their idol. Every man on board, from The Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) to The Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey) proudly wears a tattoo of their captain’s face. That includes The Surprising Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen), who certainly isn’t a man, but is never called out on it by her shipmates, who are either entirely oblivious or incredibly polite.
For a gang of criminals wanted for piracy, they really are quite lovable. Hugh Grant finally breaks type and manages to play a character who isn’t just affable and bashful. His Pirate Captain is dashing and inspiring and proud and more than a little fond of ham. Martin Freeman, cinema’s go-to-guy for grounded, sensible sidekicks, works wonders as the Pirate With A Scarf, the Captain’s trusted number two.
Enough introductions. The year be 1837. Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) reigns supreme. The British Empire has subdued, enslaved and tapped out most of the world’s resources. Britannia rules the waves. Except for that bit near the West Indies. Pirates reign supreme there. They even have their own king (Brian Blessed, being Brian Blessed). This does not please Her Majesty. She hates pirates. The “I Hate Pirates” inscription on her royal crest will back her up on this. She thinks they’re played out. Maybe she’s a ninja fan.
So, with a crew of misfits seeking fame and fortune on one side and a severe, pouty monarch on the other, we almost have ourselves a story. Add a shifty pre-Origin of Species Charles Darwin (David Tennant), a dodo that’s been passing for a parrot, sprinkle in a little monkey butler....and you have enough temptations, betrayals and hilariously appropriate cue cards to puff a strong wind in our narrative sails for a taut hour and thirty minutes of first class comedy.
Gideon Defoe has adapted a wickedly funny screenplay from his enormously witty books, but praise and glory must also go to Aardman, lest we start to take their expertise in stop-motion animation for granted. Nobody does this stuff quite like the studio that gave us the Yorkshire man-and-dog magic of Wallace and Gromit and the prison camp for poultry that was Chicken Run. They’re the professionals, and The Pirates is only cementing that reputation.
It’s a long time between films like these; by their very nature, they demand superhuman patience to produce. The sheer level of detail that goes into every frame is just one indication of how phenomenal and oddly touching the whole process really is. Okay, so this is a film that includes children. The bright colours and the Easter holiday release gave that away. But it’s also a film for film lovers, those people who love to spot the little things.Custard creams that could pass for the real thing; Ahoy! Magazine spread across the Pirate Captain’s desk; a little Blue Peter badge on the Pirate With Gout’s hat. ‘Fun for the whole family’ needn’t translate to ‘cloying mess of gushy fluff’, and this film proves it.
If you’re waiting for a downside, some unexpected let-down to The Pirates... you’ll be waiting a long time. Aardman even edited out a leper joke so as not to offend anyone. Comedy on film doesn’t need to be edgy or gross all the time to raise a giggle. Queen Victoria making an entrance on a Shetland Pony will do the job every time. The Pirate Captain’s wanted poster offers 12 doubloons and a free pen. What more do you want? The only regrettable thing about this film is how it corrupts reviewers into spoiling all the best laughs just to convince you it’s worth watching.
Now stop corrupting me and go see it.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film **** / Movie *****
Simon Moore is a budding screenwriter, passionate about films both current and classic. He has a strong comedy leaning with an inexplicable affection for 80s montages and movies that you can’t quite work out on the first viewing.