The Pirates! Band of Misfits
When the Academy Award nominations were announced for Best Animated Feature of 2012, I think 4 of the 5 selections were foregone conclusions. Most predicted that Rise of the Guardians would be the 5th nominee. When that film was snubbed, I think everyone was a bit surprised that The Pirates! Band of Misfits made the cut instead. It didn’t really make much of a splash at the box office in the U.S., barely earning over $30 million. Plus Aardman Animations wasn’t the marketing behemoth that DreamWorks is. I am happy to report Pirates is indeed a very worthy nomination.
The Pirate Captain (yes that’s his name) yearns to win the Pirate of the Year competition. But he isn’t your typical pirate. He’s actually a rather affable chap and doesn’t possess the anti-social qualities of your average mercenary. He’s backed by an amateur group of clumsy pirates that are pretty unconventional too. I don’t think the word ‘swashbuckling’ is in their vocabulary. They don’t even have proper names. Pirate with a Scarf, Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate are some examples. At least they’re very supportive of their captain. They understand that whoever can plunder the most will be deemed the winner and therein lies their dream. Outside the U.S., The picture was originally titled The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! That makes sense because during his unsuccessful attempts to raid ships, the Pirate Captain meets Charles Darwin. The scientist spies his parrot “Polly” who is in reality a Dodo. The supposedly extinct bird is intriguing to Charles. This leads the gang to an escapade in the less welcoming atmosphere of London.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits! is a delight. The style is a cheerful throwback to classic stop-motion animation. Given the strong resurgence of titles like ParaNorman and Frankenweenie, audiences seem to be responding to its more organic, tangible quality. Of course the aesthetic beauty of the film would mean nothing without a good script. Indeed, Pirates is an intelligently written production. Witty jokes and funny sight gags abound for the careful viewer throughout the brisk 88 minute running time. The voice cast is wonderful but it’s telling that one of their most amusing doesn’t even speak at all. Mr. Darwin’s assistant is a highly trained chimp named Mister Bobo who communicates by holding up note cards. He’s hilarious, but the rest of the ensemble is quite good as well. Hugh Grant has the right amount of narcissism mixed with geniality as the Pirate Captain and Imelda Staunton is a hoot as the pirate hating Queen Victoria. With its hip soundtrack (The Clash, The English Beat, Jimmy Cliff, Supergrass) and occasional gags that little tykes won’t get, this is pitched more at older kids than the toddler set. Seeing as I am well over 8 year years old, that is just fine with me.