VOCAL WORK BY
Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Ashley Jensen, Imelda Staunton, Jeremy Piven, Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek
Jeff Newitt, Peter Lord
Mini-Movie; Mr. Bobo's Flash Card DVD Game; Filmmaker Commentary; Also available as a combo pack with more extras
It may very well be sufficient for you to know whether or not you appreciate Wallace & Gromit for you to decide whether or not you'll fancy this latest Aardman Animation creation on the high seas, The Pirates! Band of Misfits. This is the first Aardman animated feature to be shot in digital and, as well, the studio's first 3-D effort. For Aardman purists, this may be difficult to accept as it's really the almost lifelike imperfections of Aardman's animations that render them so endearing to audiences. While this concern is legitimate, it's for naught as The Pirates! Band of Misfits features all the benefits of advanced technology without losing that quintessential sense of flawed humanity always so evident in the Wallace & Gromit productions and other Aardman films.
Based upon a novel by Gideon Defoe, who also pens this screenplay, Band of Misfits is filled with an abundance of Pythonesque absurdity and wit that is more typical of dry, intelligent British humor than it is catering to the more laugh out loud tastes of American audiences more craving of immediate satisfaction. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is the kind of film that lingers with you long after you've left the theater when, quite suddenly, it will occur to you "That was one darn fine film."
The film centers around a pirate captain appropriately named Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), a pirate who is quite beloved by his crew despite not quite being the sharpest pirate around and having never won the prized "Pirate of the Year" competition. Pirate Captain is determined to win it this year and believes he will do so until he finally meets his competition that includes the beautiful and deadly Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry) and perennial champ Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven).
If Pirate Captain is to capture the big prize, he must come up with something big to offer. It's about this time that he comes across Charles Darwin (David Tennant), yes that Charles Darwin), and Pirate Captain hopes he's on track for the award. Of course, nothing goes quite as he has planned as Charles realizes that Pirate Captain's rather large parrot Polly is actually the last Dodo bird. Charles plots to steal the bird to impress the woman of his dreams, Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who also happens to have serious issues with pirates.
Truthfully, while there's most certainly a story to Band of Misfits it's not of particular relevance as it seems the purpose of Defoe's script and Peter Lord's direction is simply to throw all the key characters at the screen and toss in an abundance of inspired dialogue and absurd situations along with an eclectic musical collection that ranges from Strauss to The Clash.
Purists will no doubt be bothered by Aardman's decision to incorporate digital imagery and 3-D, but they use it well here and it does, at least for the most part, actually enhance the film's goings on. The vocal work is absolutely inspired here, with Hugh Grant coming off as more inspired and energized than he has on the big screen in quite some time. Piven is here far too briefly and, well, do I really have to say that Imelda Staunton is simply marvelous here?
Lord hasn't directed a feature film since 2000's Chicken Run, but he's clearly enjoying himself here. While not all the humor works and the film may not necessarily win Aardman an abundance of new fans, it's a solid effort from a studio that has faced a few challenges in recent years in the form of a 2005 studio fire and the underwhelming support for its last effort, the under-appreciated Arthur Christmas. With a failed Dreamworks collaboration behind them, Aardman appears ready to jump back into the A-list of major animation studios and hopefully this partnership with Sony will prove fruitful for all involved.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic