Claymation ‘The Pirates! Band Of Misfits’ Revels In British Silliness
By STEWART SMITH
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is a very silly movie. And yes, that's a good thing.
A great thing, even. A lot of times it feels like kid flicks these days have forgotten how to be unaba-shedly silly, that the only sorts of gags they know how to perpetuate are ones that have some sort of pop culture reference that is dated before the film even opens. "The Pirates," on the other hand, proudly displays a sort of unabashed silliness that is as refreshing as it is laugh-out-loud funny. I think the last time I watched a movie that was this recklessly silly was "A Town Called Panic." (Which, if you haven't seen that, look it up on Netflix immediately. It's in French, but you'll get over that pretty quick.)
The precise tone of the film's silliness is set right from the start, and it is starkly British in its sensibilities. The camera pans back over a shot of London. We are informed it is London (as if Big Ben the parliament building weren't enough of a hint) because of a sign which pops up at the bottom of the frame, and as the camera pans further back we see it is being held up by a prop hand just off-camera (who then quickly tries to duck out of frame after he realizes he's been seen). If that's the sort of thing that will make you giggle, you'll find yourself right at home with "The Pirates!"
The story follows an affably innocuous band of pirates led by The Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant). He's joined by his first mate, The Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman), The Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin), The Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson), The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens (Al Roker) and The Strangely Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen). They're hardly a threatening lot (their favorite thing is tends to be Ham Nite in the ship's dining quarters), yet remain confident that this will be the year The Pirate Captain will at last be awarded the coveted Pirate of the Year award.
However, with barely any booty (the award is given based on total treasure plundered as well as overall notorious-ness) and with some stiff competition from the likes of Peg-Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and, multi-year winner, Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), The Pirate Captain and his crew are going to have to come up with something brilliant to stay in the running.
They may have their chance, though, when Captain discovers, thanks to the observations of one Charles Darwin (David Tennant), that his parrot Polly is not a parrot at all, but rather the last surviving dodo bird. Eager to get his hands on the bird, Darwin assures Captain that there are riches and rewards beyond measure if he can deliver Polly to the Scientist of the Year competition. Captain goes along with it, thinking he can simply waltz off with said riches and rewards and sail back to Blood Island just in time to easily win Pirate of the Year.
Things, as you probably guessed, don't go quite as planned.
The joy, of course, comes from watching everything go haywire and the general ridiculousness of it all as it happens. Given that this comes from Aardman Studios (the fine folks behind the "Wallace & Gromit" series, as well as "Flushed Away" and "Chicken Run") the humor is often dry as a desert, but with plenty of sight gags, physical comedy and general foolishness to go around. Some of the best laughs come from the implausibly fast costume changes the pirate crew goes through (not to mention the costumes themselves), although my favorite bit remains Mr. Bobo, Darwin's domesticated monkey (or rather, "manpanzee") butler who communicates via title cards. I still get a good giggle every time I think about Mr. Bobo pulling out an exclamatory card, being told to be quiet, then pulling out another card with smaller text on it. If you find the concept of that funny, by all means, go see "The Pirates!" If you don't, well, you have my pity.
That said, there's still plenty to admire, even if you don't "get" British humor or enjoy silly gags. The animation is, for my money, well worth anyone's time. I've long been a fan of "claymation" and it makes me genuinely sad to see how it's become used less and less these days. It's understandable, of course, given how time and labor-intensive it is, but "The Pirates!" dutifully displays that there really is nothing quite like it, especially when in the hands of masters of the craft like those at Aardman.
Stewart Smith is the Entertainment Editor for the
Tyler Morning Telegraph
. Contact him at 903-596-6301 or by e-mail at ssmith@tylerpa per.com.