Friday, April 27, 2012
Movie review: The Pirates! Band of Misfits
When you get pirates, Charles Darwin, and Queen Victoria together, you're guaranteed to have a good time.
News of any new release from Aardman Animations should be greeted by avid filmgoers with exclamations of joy. Like Pixar, they have an almost unblemished record of producing award-worthy animation, both in short form and feature-length (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run). Also, their preferred method – stop-motion animation – is so labor-intensive that any resulting product is almost guaranteed of being good, because why else would they put in that kind of effort?
Their latest, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, is a blend of the familiar – you’d know an Aardman character’s face anywhere – and the brand-new, as this is Aardman’s first foray into the world of 3D. The story is as clever as their visual style: The Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) and his crew gallivant around the world, trying to plunder any wayward ship they come across. However, when it’s obvious his exploits don’t measure up to his rivals for the Pirate of the Year award, Pirate Captain goes in search of bigger and better fame, a voyage that puts him on a collision course with bizarro versions of Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
As difficult as the process of doing stop-motion animation is, it provides for a wealth of opportunities to insert ingenious jokes. In fact, the humor – be it visual or spoken – comes at you so fast and furious that it’ll likely take multiple viewings to catch it all. There are many times when a joke is so sly that it takes a beat or two before it registers you’ve just witnessed something hilarious. But these are no inside jokes – the film’s humor is more than broad enough to draw in all viewers.
This is one of the few times that a film has been enhanced by its use of 3D, rather than slapped on as a marketing gimmick. You’re drawn into the strange and wonderful world of the stop-motion puppets like never before, so much so that you wish they’d just stop and spend more time in the various sets. Directors Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt and their team also do a great job of integrating computer-generated effects with the stop-motion elements. Shots of the pirate ship on the high seas are seamless, as are less noticeable but no less crucial CGI details.
The filmmakers also deserve credit for never overselling the many well-known actors cast to fill the roles – in addition to Grant, Tennant, and Staunton are people like Martin Freeman, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, and Brendan Gleeson. However, none of them overshadow any of the others, giving each character, even down to one named The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens, a chance to shine.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a gleeful, almost non-stop joke machine that has the added bonus of also being a treat for the eyes. Movie fans would do well not to dismiss this as “just a kids movie” – there’s plenty here to please people of any age.
For showtimes for The Pirates! Band of Misfits, click here.