In the United Kingdom the new stop-motion animated movie The Pirates! Band of Misfits is called “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.” Apparently “science” doesn’t play well in North America, but that shouldn’t stop us “Yankees” from enjoying this very entertaining British film by the creators of Chicken Run and the Wallace & Gromit movies.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is based on a series of British books, by author/screenwriter Gideon Defoe called, “The Pirates! In an Adventure with (various titles),” about a not-so-swashbuckley Captain conventionally called, “Pirate Captain.” The unimaginative name is misleading as the rest of this film has so much originality and farcical fun packed into it that it will take many repeat viewings to completely capture its treasure of golden gags – many of which are well hidden gems.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is determined to win the annual “Pirate of the Year Award,” but he is competing against celebrity pirates with cooler names like Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven). The voice talent in the movie does a great job and Ms. Hayek’s Cutlass Liz character is deadly sexy and funny.
While pillaging ships on the high-seas in an effort to win the big contest, the crew has a chance encounter with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and the misfit pirate crew is informed that their portly parrot, Polly, is actually the last living Dodo bird. Darwin convinces the Pirate Captain that he will be rewarded with a fortune in treasure if he presents his rare specimen to Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) for scientific study. But the Queen hates pirates and has evil ulterior motives for their beloved bird. The Captain and his crew end up with no bird and no “sea-cred” in order to win the contest, but through a series of misadventures they all end up pirate heroes in the end.
The stop-motion animation in this film is amazing and for its technical aspects alone this movie is worth watching. Director Peter Lord utilized a team of over 300 animators and technicians to complete this picture and he was present at the screening I attended where he described one three-second scene, when a group of pirates are all laughing hysterically at the Pirate Captain, which took the creators three weeks to complete. That’s three weeks for three seconds of animated footage. That kind of dedication to your craft takes a special kind of person who has to really love what they are doing, and it shows through in every aspect of this meticulously crafted movie.
There are some CGI effects blended in with the stop-motion animation, but it all looks seamless and the attention-to-detail in this film is dazzling. There is layer-upon-layer of creativity in its design, including some standout steampunk themed imagery that was incorporated into the Victorian era ships and machinery – very cool!
Pirates caused some controversy a while back for its trailer that depicted the Pirate Captain and his crew boarding a “leper ship” when a plagued person’s arm falls off as he raises it to show he is “unarmed.” The film’s creators acquiesced to the complaints and demands of the sensitive “leper community” and changed the name of the ship to “plague ship” instead, but they left the visual intact. It is that sort of irreverent British humor that gives this film its heart. Most of the material in The Pirates! Band of Misfits is probably over the heads of most kids, but they will still have fun with all the cartoonish colors and crazy animals. This is a fine family film with something for everyone, regardless of their ailment.
A Note on 3D: This film was shot in 3D, which made the painstaking process of its animation even more difficult to get precise. I wish I could say the effort was worth it, but when I see this movie again it will NOT be in 3D. The picture was very muddy and it is most likely the careless presentation of the theater, which needs to pay attention to their projector’s bulb luminescence when showing a 3D feature. The projected picture MUST be bright in order to make up for the 3D glasses that are worn, otherwise it is dark and muddled, and most theater management does not seem to understand this. In a film like Pirates it is extra sad to see the efforts the artists made compromised by the theater not fulfilling their end of the process. If you pay for the 3D and experience the same thing I did, do your cinematic brothers and sisters a favor and express your displeasure with the management. If no one complains, this problem will never get better.