Movie Review: The Pirates! Band of Misfits
By Matthew Huntley
May 14, 2012
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a jolly, zany and all around pleasant adventure story…for kids. There weren’t any little ones in my screening room, but I could imagine them bouncing up and down in their seats and getting excited over the bright colors, the palpable Claymation, and the frivolous behavior of the raucous pirate characters. The same cannot be said for adults, which limits the movie as far as family entertainment is concerned, but seeing their children have a good time may be worth the price of admission for most parents.
The whole project feels it was made with the purest of intentions. It tells an old-fashioned tale through somewhat old-fashioned means. These days, when kids are bombarded by computer generated animation from all sides, it was nice to see the folks at Aardman continue to stand by Claymation. That’s not to denounce CGI or undermine how hard it is to make a good movie using the technology; it’s just refreshing to see a different format used once in a while and be able to admire an art form that isn’t as popular. With The Pirates!, the style and design of the Claymation look terrific and the tangible quality of the material is fitting for the story. There’s something about clay that makes it more raw and gritty, and if any type of people is raw and gritty, it’s pirates.
But as much as I appreciate the movie’s look and the dedication of the filmmakers, Pirates! ultimately wasn’t for me, and I imagine it won’t be enough for most adult viewers. With all of its innocence and joviality, it’s the kind of movie you’d take your kids to in an instant if they were, say, 11 or younger, but any older and they might start to roll their eyes at the jokes or check their watch because of the dull pacing. For more mature audiences, the film is rather slow and dry, probably because the conflicts, action and humor are so straightforward compared to the more complex Pixar films like Finding Nemo or Ratatouille, which have a more universal appeal. The Pirates! has a narrower range that’s best suited for kids, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it makes it hard to recommend to anyone beyond grade school.
The story follows a band of misfit pirates who are captained by the aptly named Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant). At the beginning, two crew members debate over what’s best about their pirate lifestyle - the booty or the cutlasses. Pirate Captain responds by saying “Ham Nite” is the best part and then goes on to cuddle his odd-looking parrot named Polly, whom he and the rest of the crew treat like a beloved family dog.
Pirate Captain is excited because it’s “Pirate of the Year” time again and he thinks he’s a dead lock for the coveted award because he’s been overlooked 20 plus times. Although who could blame the Pirate King (Brian Blessed) for not choosing Pirate Captain given his competition? Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) are two professional pirates who come back with more riches than Pirate Captain and his crew have ever seen. Bellamy even rides in on a whale full of gold.
When they laugh at Pirate Captain in the face, he vows then and there to take down any and all ships that come his way and steal their booty, though his only finds are ghost ships, nudist ships and ships with grade-schoolers on their class field trip. Just when he’s about to give up, he meets an odd, wife-less fellow named Charles Darwin (David Tennant), and when “Chuck” sees that Polly is actually an extinct dodo bird, Pirate Captain is swayed by the idea of winning the grand science prize in London, which he believes could lead to Pirate of the Year. That is, if the ferocious Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), a staunch hater of pirates, doesn’t hunt him down first.
A movie like The Pirates! has all the qualities to keep little kids happy: zippy one-liners; characters dressing up in disguise; chase scenes involving bathtubs and seemingly endless stair cases; a monkey butler with an attitude; and, of course, sword fights. All this brought a smile to my face, but I didn’t laugh very much or feel the kind of joy and wonder that the aforementioned Pixar films or Kung Fu Panda movies brought to the table. Those were more innovative and substantive family entertainment. Still, I could envision myself enjoying The Pirates! more if I was watching it amongst its target audience. Kids would likely inject the experience with some needed energy and laughter, which would be beneficial to adults. If that’s the case, perhaps it could promote the idea of parents seeing it and consequently spending time with their kids at the movies, and there’s something to be said for that.