The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Band of ‘Pirates!’ that stick with you
The folks at British animation outfit Aardman, makers of “Wallace & Gromit,” have a knack for leaving us smiling almost as goofily as one of their bulbous claymation creations. They do it yet again with “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” a genial genre sendup that marks the studio’s return to traditional stop-motion animation, this time in 3-D. (Aardman relied on computers for “Arthur Christmas” and 2006’s “Flushed Away.”) The movie could also teach something to the makers of “Pirates of the Caribbean” about delivering a story quirky enough to actually stick with you. Love Jack Sparrow, but our recollection of his exploits has always been as hazy as his, probably.
Directed by Aardman co-founder Peter Lord (“Chicken Run”), the movie features Hugh Grant breaking out of stammering charmer mode as Pirate Captain, a Victorian-era swashbuckler in love with his work. He’s got a swell-if-sketchy crew, his beard is luxuriant, and he regularly dines on ham (every bit the delicacy to him that cheese is to Wallace). Unfortunately, he never wins the hallowed Pirate of the Year competition, getting shown up time and again by hotshots Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).
Following yet another humiliation, the dejected crew runs into Galapagos-hopping Charles Darwin (David Tennant, “Doctor Who”), who informs Pirate Captain that his “parrot” is actually a dodo bird, and their ticket to glory. Maybe even, yes, Pirate of the Year honors. It’ll just involve a quick jaunt to London — seat of scary Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who is decidedly not amused by piracy. And then things get really wacky.
The movie looks meticulously crafted, of course, and is consistently, drily amusing. Among the throwaways: Grant’s embarrassed mumbling about a Vegas-y night in Madagascar, and piratical exclamations of “Oh, sweet Neptune's briny pants!” There’s so much going on, often so subtly, you may want to sail with this crew more than once. We’re still trying to figure out where we missed Al Roker’s voice work as the “Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens.”
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.