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Pirates’ not perfect, but still funny

Kevin Noonan | Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In the interest of full disclosure, I must attach a caveat to this review – I am blessed with both the maturity and sense of humor of an eight-year old.
With that out of the way, Aardman Animation’s latest adventure, “Pirates: Band of Misfits,” rides the high seas of childish entertainment for a rollickingly fun experience.
“Pirates” follows the pirate captain known simply as Pirate Captain and his crew of similarly-obviously-named buccaneers on their quest for treasure and fame. Pirate Captain, expertly voiced by Hugh Grant, is determined to win the notorious “Pirate of the Year” award, and thus prove his worth.
His competition for the award (including the voices of Jeremy Piven and Selma Hayek) makes it clear that the Pirate Captain, despite the way in which in he presents himself, is in fact not much of a pirate, and goads him incessantly.
The plot is a little ridiculous, but humorously so. The crew’s ensuing misadventures lead them to raid a plague boat, a ghost ship and, finally, Charles Darwin’s boat. Darwin informs the Captain that his beloved “parrot” is in fact a dodo, a bird that had been believed extinct for two hundred years. Darwin is also on a quest for an award, the “Scientist of the Year,” and believes this bird could do it for him, leading to a struggle for the bird that encapsulates the rest of the movie.
The film comes from Aardman Animation, a studio known for a unique “claymation” style of production, as well as fantastic storytelling and humor that often transcends generations. The studio is most famous for “Wallace and Gromit,” as the founders of the studio, Peter Lord (who directed “Pirates”) and David Sproxton, created the beloved characters.
The studio is also responsible for the recent “Arthur Christmas,” “Flushed Away” and one of the greatest animated films of the previous decade, “Chicken Run.”
The previous success that Aardman has enjoyed creates a very standard for its films, but not every movie they make can be “Chicken Run.”
In this case, “Pirates: Band of Misfits” doesn’t quite measure up to the bar set by Aardman’s past. The film is clever, but not memorably so. The moments of age-transcendent wit are a little too few, and far between. The message behind the story – always remember that friends and family are what’s important in life – isn’t quite as poignant as their previous work.
But, as Voltaire once said, the perfect is the enemy of the good. The film is still entertaining throughout, and the celebrity voice acting is brilliant. Hugh Grant sells the Pirate Captain and all of his arrogant buffoonery perfectly.
And the film’s visuals may be unmatched by any of Aardman’s previous films. The studio is known for its stop-motion claymation, but in its previous film, “Arthur Christmas,” the studio used exclusively computer-animation for the first time.
In “Pirates,” Aardman used a hybrid of stop-motion and computer animation that makes for a beautifully illustrated world for the pirates to sail and plunder, without losing the trademark clay look that makes the characters feel so unique and enjoyable.
“Pirates” might not be perfect, but it makes for fun, lighthearted entertainment, not to mention a spectacularly-illustrated film.