Sunday, February 17, 2013


The Pirates! Band of Misfits
April 27, 2012 (United States)
88 min
United Kingdom (English)

Directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt
Written by Gideon Defoe

If you're looking for a riotous time with a clout of artistry, ye best set your sights on "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," among the best animated films of 2012.

It was a solid year for stop-motion animation. Three of the five nominees for (Best) Animated Feature at the upcoming Academy Awards fall into this particular method of creation: "FrankenWeenie," "ParaNorman," and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." While nowhere near as popular as their CG-crafted counterpart features that are cranked out like factory products these days, I have a deep affection and respect for what goes into the stop-motion process. I've tried my hand at it myself to apparently amateur results. Of these three, each of which I was impressed by in their artistry, I most recommend seeking out "The Pirates! Band of Misfits."

This is the latest from Aardman Animations, the British studio renowned for the "Wallace and Gromit" series and my favorite, "Chicken Run." The clay-based faces of their characters sets them apart from the rest. The details have only improved over the years and the mug of our central character, Pirate Captain, is all the proof you need. He lives up to his name as the captain of a ship and crew that plague the European open waters circa 1837, much to Queen Victoria's vexation. While the respected leader of his rag-tag crew of scalawags (including a cross-dresser and an albino) Pirate Captain is thought very little of on Blood Island where pirates dock in from around the world and boast of their pillaged spoils. He is laughed out of the pub when his competitors learn he has applied for Pirate of the Year, an honor he's yet to win. You need to bring in the most "booty" to be crowned and Pirate Captain & co. are hapless at best.

The set-up is nothing we haven't already seen before, but the change of setting and characters is literally a breath of fresh sea air. Sight gags and keen humor keep the voyage entertaining from dawn to dusk. They come across Charles Darwin's expedition at sea and he becomes one of the main supporting players for the rest of the story (he and his butler chimp, Mr. Bobo). "The Pirates!" looks incredible from the dark, grimy, misty streets of this era's London to the bright blue of the open sea. One exciting chase scene involving Captain and crew racing in a bathtub down the Darwin estate is an imaginative and thrilling affair, especially when you remember they had to make it one incremental movement at a time. The script is ripe with memorable quotes. In one scene, after a foreseeable falling-out among his crew, Captain Pirate admits to Charles, “The friends you make after you become famous are better, truer friends than the ones you’ve had for years beforehand.” The humor is sometimes dry as a landlubber but smart in its delivery and commentary on the plot. 

"The Pirates!" is undeniably predictable, but one surprising element is the voice talent involved. I had no idea it was Hugh Grant in the the lead role or that Al Rooker (for the U.S. version) was involved. Martin Freeman, who we now know well from his live-action portrayals of Bilbo ("The Hobbit") and Watson (BBC's "Sherlock") respectively is Pirate Captain's right hand man, affectionally called Number Two. I highly recommend this adventure. Only younger viewers will be completely at the mercy of the narrative's sway, but there's so much packed in for the ride that it's impossible to not be entertained by what you'll spy.

"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..." 
- Pirate Captain


CONTENT: some crude humor, brief language, and swashbuckling action violence

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