On paper, Pirates! Band Of Misfits, the latest outing from production company Aardman, had everything going for it. Boasting some charming claymation visuals, a wonderful cast of eccentric characters and a vivid and colourful world, it appeared Pirates was set to take its rightful place alongside similar Arrdman animated hits such as Wallace And Gromit and Chicken Run. Unfortunately despite its potential for greatness, Pirates falls a little short of reaching the witty heights those far superior aforementioned films reached.
With the Pirate Of The Year awards fast approaching, Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) makes it his single, focused goal to take out the prestigious award, despite years of failure and ridicule from his competitors. His unrelenting desire to nab this top slot soon sees Pirate Captain and his band of oddball crewmates cross paths with everybody’s favourite evolutionist, Charles Darwin (David Tennant). This merging of worlds soon drags the pirate entourage to the shores of London where Pirate Captain comes to the stark realization that the path of untold riches, as well as the Pirate of The Year award, may be obtained through the understanding of science. But before such rewards can be reaped, first he and his crew need to thwart the devious hidden intentions of Darwin, all the while avoiding the ruthless gaze of Queen Victoria herself.
I hate to sound like a grumpy viewer over-criticising a children’s film here, however it must be said, Pirates! Band Of Misfits is nowhere near as hilarious as it thinks it is. That may be a subjective statement seeing as how humour is a personal thing, but it’s hard to ignore the alarming amount of flat gags that were frequently met with deafening silence throughout my screening. The non-stop attempts at humorous word play and amusing one-liners are appreciated, however many of these misfired gags frequently lacked the clever touches previous films from Aardman have boasted. That’s not to say Pirates isn’t funny, because it most certainly has its quirky comical flourishes. The visual presentation in particular is host to a range of cheeky hidden punch-lines that will leave you chuckling under your breath. Keen eyed viewers will notice all sorts of sneaky in-jokes via storefront signs and discreet posters placed in the background that feature some of the funniest jokes in the entire film.
Speaking of visuals, Pirates! Band Of Misfits looks gorgeous. There’s something about the old school claymation approach to animation that just manages to warm my heart, and the work featured here is some of the best I’ve seen. The colours are bright and vibrant, the detailed characters are each uniquely defined by their own particular exaggerated features, while the animation itself is fluid and smooth. With such an eye-catching visual scheme, one would expect the accompanying soundtrack to reach equally upbeat heights. And while on one hand the hit songs littering the film are indeed fun, the truth is they don’t really match the vibe of the film. I mean I love Flight Of The Concords, and the use of the song is somewhat appropriate here, but an original piece of music may have helped elevate the film from standard kiddie fare to all ages crowd-pleaser.
The voice talents featured in Pirates! Band Of Misfits are first-rate. Hugh Grant,David Tennant, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek all lend their distinguished voices here, each of whom does a superb job at accentuating their character’s unique personality quirks. In fact so effective is the job of the performers here that unless you were aware of the actors voicing the characters ahead of time, there’s a good chance you would remain in the dark as of the identity of several of these voices. Hugh Grant in particular sounds nothing like his usual self and his overly cheerful, rapid-fire approach works wonderfully for Pirate Captain, accentuating his vapid and cheerful nature while painting him as a genuinely likable figure.
Putting aside all of the fickle nitpicking, Pirates! Band Of Misfits is a pleasant animated venture. It may not scale the grand heights Pixar have reached with many of their animated films, nor does it manage to match the comedic excellence seen in previous Aardman films, and to be honest, it’s not even really on par with many of the more recent Dreamworks productions, but comparisons aside, Pirates! Band Of Misfits is still an amusing little adventure that the kids will most certainly love. As will those older viewers possessing a young heart and a penchant for humour of the bizarre kind.
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