The Pirates! Band of Misfits Reviews
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! is a good example of this phenomenon. On the surface there is nothing especially remarkable about it, either in the quality of the animation we have come to expect from Aardman, or in the conventional nature of its story. If one was in a bad mood, it would not take too long to dismantle the film, with withering comments about it not being first-rate Aardman. But the fact is that, after seeing this film, you're very unlikely to be in a bad mood.
The Pirates! (as it will hereafter be called) marks an interesting turning point in Aardman's history, at least from a technical viewpoint. Along with their previous digimation, Arthur Christmas, it marks the beginning of a partnership with Sony Pictures Animation, who three years earlier produced the hilariously surreal Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This is significant due to the combination of traditional stop-motion and CG effects which were needed to bring the film to life.
When Aardman was creating Flushed Away, working in partnership with Dreamworks, a decision was taken early on to do the entire film in digimation, on account of how difficult water is to film and the damage it can do to plasticene. But for all its moments of charm, Flushed Away felt like Dreamworks had run roughshod over Aardman's creativity, reducing true genius into something a lot more ordinary.
Being set primarily at sea, The Pirates! involves a large amount of visual effects to create the water and the skyline around the stop-motion figures. But while Aardman and Dreamworks were constantly at loggerheads, on this occasion the effects blend beautifully, with the hand-crafted characters taking centre stage even in the most elaborate set-pieces. Aardman's strength has always been in stop-motion, and here they are allowed to work to their strengths.
As always with Aardman, the devil is in the detail. Their films are made by people who love cinema, pouring in references to films from their formative years to enrich the finished product. You won't spot all the sight gags, quirks and puns the first time round, but more importantly the story and characters are enjoyable enough to make you want to revisit them. The hearty laughs that do stick in one's mind, whether it's the fish-in-a-hat gag or the ship leaving red markers on the map, are almost like teasers in themselves, part of a gift that just keeps on giving.
The film has great set-pieces which rival anything in either Chicken Run (Peter Lord's previous film) or Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The rooftop chase, in which Charles Darwin attempts to steal the last living dodo, builds like an old-fashioned 1980s action sequence, using the full spread of the house to maximum effect. The sequence of the bath careering down the stairs pursued by a tumbling head is like an extended version of the boulder chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and there is a nice, brief nod to Jurassic Park as the bath leaps majestically through an enormous skeleton.
While Curse of the Were-Rabbit was rooted in horror movies, paying homage to Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Hammer movies and An American Werewolf in London, The Pirates! is grounded in the old-fashioned adventure of Errol Flynn and Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers. The action sequences feel like they have been choreographed to allow for the fewest number of edits, with Lord and his animators understanding that audiences are often more impressed by the scale of a battle than the pace as which it appears to unfold.
The release of The Pirates! internationally has not been without mishap. Aardman received a complaint from Lepra Health in Action, requesting that a scene of a leper's arm falling off be removed for misrepresenting victims of leprosy. More worryingly, in America the title was changed to The Pirates! Band of Misfits!. While film titles are commonly changed, this is symptomatic of marketers having low opinions of a film's potential audience. It is ludicrous to believe that the world 'scientist' would put Americans off seeing the film. It certainly doesn't change the relatively heroic role accorded to Charles Darwin.
The characters in The Pirates! continue the Aardman tradition created by Nick Park of the inept but extremely confident protagonist. The Pirate Captain is fully aware of the motley nature of his crew, observing in one of the film's best sight gags that some of his crew are just "fish that I've dressed up in a hat." But he is as confident in his ability to plunder as Wallace is in his inventions. Martin Freeman's first mate acts as the Gromit-like foil, trying to do the right thing while harbouring a sense of long-suffering duty towards his oldest friend.
The biggest criticism of The Pirates! has been its storyline. Because it combines two of Gideon Dafoe's children's books, there is a lot of plot to get through in 90-odd minutes. And because the film is not a direct pastiche like Curse of the Were-Rabbit, it doesn't have quite as rigid a structure as one might like. But some critics would go further and claim that its emotional arc is too predictable, with our heroes jumping through narrative hoops without offering anything new.
There's an old adage that the difference between a convention and a cliché is the emotional response that surrounds it: if we are enjoying ourselves, it's a convention, and if not, it's a cliché. The fact is, even if The Pirates! is in familiar waters, it is funnier and more lovingly crafted than any of the similar stories which clog up our multiplexes in the summer season. We should not take Aardman's craftsmanship for granted, and must be willing to promote this genuine passion for craft almost in spite of its familiar elements.
The film also passes the acid test of any comedy, never letting up in its ability to make you laugh. The running gags surrounding the Pirate Captain's boarding parties are very well thought-out, as are the crew's disguises and the numerous map scenes. The more whimsical jokes, involving baby clothes, baboon's kidneys and ham night, are all first-rate Aardman, and Lord's comic timing is on a par with Park's in judging where and when to play out every single gag.
The cast of The Pirates! is also of a high standard. Hugh Grant, in his first animated role, handles the Pirate Captain with such aplomb that afterwards you won't be able to imagine him without that beard. Imelda Staunton is terrific as Queen Victoria, with a performance that makes her character in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix look tame by comparison. David Tennant and Martin Freeman provide great support in their respective roles, with the former's geeky excitability offsetting the latter's world-weariness. And as for Brian Blessed's cameo... suffice to say, no-one else could have played that part.
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! is a really great family film which will hold up to repeat viewing every bit as well as Aardman's previous offerings. Peter Lord directs superbly, handling a talented cast with near-perfect measure and blending the stop-motion and CGI very well. While it's not quite perfect, it bodes very well for the future of Aardman, with or without Wallace and Gromit.
Nate's Grade: A
I believe that the film is hampered by trying to be too much to too many; keeping the plot simple and most of the characters one dimensional so the kiddies can follow truly robs the film from becoming something even more ribald. It's an issue I had with the Shrek franchise as well - things are kept obvious and simple... of course one could counter by saying "well, it's just a cartoon, what'd ya expect?" -I'd counter the counter by saying that just because something is animated doesn't mean it has to be childish.
So, we have a film that begins beautifully, with a fantastic camera shot that is truly wonderful, but then that realism is turned on its head by the introduction of Queen Victoria who looks exactly like a cartoon character - quite a jarring juxtaposition.
The film only starts to lose steam when Darwin starts acting like... well a cartoon character. So much more could have been done with him, and yet he is reduced to a plot contrivance that has fallen in love with Victoria.
Now many will talk of the voice acting (which is quite good for the most part, although I expected more bombast from Jeremy Piven as Black Belamy) - but while I found it much fun to see the likes of Brian Blessed (who will forever be Augustus Caesar from I Claudius), and Brendan Gleason in the mix, I can see my wife's point in that who is speaking the words isn't as important as how the words come across.
There are bits of lunacy and fun, and yet I often felt as if each character was there to perform a specific task; playing to the tried and true method of cartoon characters through the ages. From the Pirate Captain's continual refusal to see anything other than the obvious (and often missing even that), to the crew's all too predicable antics - it all felt kind of tired in spite of some truly funny bits, as when the Captain makes a presentation in front of the London Scientific Community and Also Sprach Zarathustra (the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey) is played on a squeeze box!
In conclusion; there are far worse animated films out there (Planet 51 for example), but there are so very many better ones (Over The Hedge, Aardman's own Chicken Run - not to mention anything Pixar). It's just fine if you want nothing more than light humor and a few chuckles.
Very good animated movie! The animation is top notch, as it should be. Aardman are the masters of their art and having dabbled in stop-motion animation myself, I understand the time and effort that must go into making a stop-motion feature. Aardman has come a long way from the rough and ready clay models of The Wrong Trousers but the models still maintain their distinctive style and it is obvious that care has been taken during each of the millions of frames. The voice cast is excellent. Most of the actors are instantly recognisable but David Tennant puts on a convincing accent for his interpretation of Charles Darwin. The actors help to make the scrip very funny and I'm pleased to see that the filmmakers have stuck with a mostly British cast and stayed away from an A-List star. It's just great to see another stop-motion clay animated film from Aardman in the big screen, but this time it's in 3D. The 3D is pretty good, but even in 2D the film is still wonderful to watch. These kinds of family films are rare these days. While kids these days like movies with talking animals and some other mediocre stuff, this one uses the ludicrous elements in a smart way. Like I said, it's not new but it's still an exciting and enjoyable film. Go see it!
After years of humiliation and failed attempts to win the coveted Pirate of the Year Award, Pirate Captain and his oddball crew take on the cream of the pirating crop - Black Bellamy, Peg Leg Hastings and Cutlass Liz - in a race to pillage the most booty. They soon cross paths with lovelorn scientist Charles Darwin, who persuades the Captain that the crew's prized 'parrot', Polly, could be the answer to the 'untold riches' they are searching for. Their adventure takes them to Victorian London where they meet Darwin's sidekick 'man-panzee' Mister Bobo, and the notorious pirate-hating Queen Victoria herself. It soon unfolds that Darwin's motives for helping the crew are not what they seem, and the Queen has an evil hidden agenda of her own. The Pirate Captain must choose between basking in the glory of being crowned Pirate of the Year, or staying faithful to his trusted crew.
Pirate Captain sets out on a mission to defeat his rivals Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz for the Pirate of the year Award. The quest takes Captain and his crew from the shores of Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London.
The latest comedy from Aardman Studios - the mob responsible for the fantastically oddball Wallace and Gromit output - delivers pretty much what you expect: a clever and unique family film that largely appeals to the adults more than the children. The screen is chock-a-block with winks and nods that the little ones will miss (David Lynch's Elephant Man gets an inspired cameo) and the verbal humour is wryly comical, but never laugh-out-loud funny. The kids aren't forgotten about altogether, there are enough slapstick sequences and memorable sidekicks to keep them amused first time round, however repeat viewings may not be on the cards. Hugh Grant is almost unrecognisable as the voice behind the Pirate Captain (yep, that's his name) but does a nice job of injecting the bumbling fool with warmth and likability, whilst Imelda Staunton is terrific (when is she not?) as the malevolent Queen Victoria. Undoubtedly intelligent and the meticulous clay-mation is always fascinating, but a few belly laughs would've elevated the proceedings.
I was impressed by all of the clay work and appreciated all the small details they put into their work. It really is a cute film for kids. The characters were a lot of fun as well. Maybe not for me, but then again, it wasn't made for me. So if you have little ones or nieces and nephews like myself, this will be a great treat for them. Or even for you if you enjoy clay animation."
It may look like a childs film, but it sure has some decent adult humour at the same time, so it should be enjoyed by everyone. However, the only criticism I have is that no one got the 'Elephant Man' joke. Aside from that, its wacky, its clever and is essential for all those who admired Wallace & Gromit or a good laugh.