Just when it started to look as if the pirate trend had sailed its course and that old Jolly Roger was disappearing over the horizon line, the Aardman Animations ship fires off starboard-blasting clay cannonballs of hilarity from its gun ports, scoring a direct hit on our funny bones. Breezy, colorful, and overflowing with jokes for viewers of all ages, The Pirates! Band of Misfits is yet another winner from the studio that gave us Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, and, most recently, Arthur Christmas.
Try as he might, the Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant) just isn't taken seriously as a plunderer. But that might change if he could only manage to win the Pirate of the Year competition. As the event gets under way, he makes it his mission to leave dreaded foes Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) sinking in his wake. But when the Pirate Captain hijacks a ship carrying Charles Darwin (David Tennant) on a nature expedition, he makes a startling discovery about his loyal "parrot" Polly that sends him on an adventure into the heart of London, where a major science competition is being held. Later, just as it appears as if the Pirate Captain's dream is finally within reach, the vengeful Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) discovers his true identity. A monarch with an intense hatred of pirates, she offers to spare the Pirate Captain's neck for a price. And though at first her offer seems fair, it isn't long before the amiable marauder realizes that in his quest to be the best, he's put his favorite pet in grave danger. Now, in order to rescue Polly, the Pirate Captain will have to take on Queen Victoria herself. Fortunately he won't have to go it alone, because his loyal crew will be battling right alongside him, even if it means taking a long walk off the queen's plank as punishment.
Invention has been the cornerstone of Aardman Animations since the very beginning, and that spirit is still alive and well in The Pirates! Band of Misfits. With studio veteran Peter Lord at the helm, this lively adventure sails just as smoothly when the Pirate Captain and his crew are traipsing though the London fog as it does when they're seeking ships to pillage on the high seas. A rousing introduction to the Pirate Captain's opponents and a comedic series of blundered hijackings early on get the action off to a rousing start before a trip to Darwin's house leads to a chase that stays true to the style and energy of Aardman's best work. Meanwhile, a rapid-fire succession of sight gags, surprise cameos, clever quips, and winning characters will have the kids laughing as their parents catch the jokes that fly over their heads. And the gentle moral about remaining true to yourself in the face of temptation comes through in the actions of the characters rather than clunky exposition, ensuring that the story never slows down in the race to its energetic nautical climax.
As usual for Aardman, the detail devoted to character design makes Pirates! eye candy of the highest order, and elaborate, computer-generated backdrops give the film a distinctive texture that mirrors the studio's clay-based tradition while also providing a vibrant splash of color that really brings the story to life. And the same could be said for the exceptionally talented cast as well. Grant instills the good-natured Pirate Captain with just enough of a rugged edge to make him alternately dashing and endearing, while Tennant, Staunton, and Brendan Gleeson stand out as, respectively, the smitten Darwin, the villainous queen, and the ever-loyal Pirate With Gout. So hop aboard and get ready for a good time, because The Pirates! Band of Misfits is cinematic booty that shines like gold.