Well, I’m now one step closer to seeing every film nominated for a significant Academy Award for the past year. Now, all I have left are Frankenweenie, The Sessions, The Master, and Amour. All this plus new releases to cover and midterms, so many first-world problems to deal with. I suppose I can at least be grateful I’m not in the Northeast right now, here in Seattle the entire city freaks out when we get a few inches of snow so I can only imagine how quickly society would collapse under three feet. In any case, I’ll do my best to cover everything I can with enough room left for Oscar Predictions, which brings us back to the dark horse nominee for Best Animated Picture: The Pirates! Band of Misfits. I should mention before this review that along with Monty Python, I was also raised on healthy doses of Wallace and Gromit, so it should be noted that I have a bit of a bias towards stop-motion British humor. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is definitely geared towards family audiences more than anything else but it at least has enough sweetness and occasional wit to provide an entertaining diversion for adult audiences as well.
Pirate Captain sets out on a mission to defeat his rivals Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz for the Pirate of the year Award. The quest takes Captain and his crew from the shores of Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London.
The biggest thing that surprised me about this movie was how difficult it is to recognize Hugh Grant as the voice of The Pirate Captain. I’m not the biggest fan of Mr. Grant, but he does a wonderful job here of fitting his voice into the character. A lot of animated movies focus so much on getting celebrity voices that they don’t consider how poorly an actor or actress’ voice might fit into the visual character they’re playing. The worst case of this I’ve ever seen has got to be Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Watch Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi’s characters in it and tell me I’m lying). Luckily, this is not the case here and while a lot of the voices are recognizable as the actors or actresses playing them, none are intrusive enough to be a real problem.
Beyond The Pirate Captain is his crew, filled out by the likes of Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson, Anton Yelchin and more. The crew is always good for the occasional laugh, and the fact that they are all named after their attributes (The Albino Pirate, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, etc.) is also amusing. Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven play rival Pirates Cutlass Liz and Black Bellamy, and while Salma Hayek’s Latin sultriness matches her role just fine, Jeremy Piven still sounds like Ari from Entourage in every single scene. Did I mention I can’t stand Entourage? Well, I am now.
Lastly we have my favorite Doctor, Mr. David Tennant as Charles Darwin, who brings the crew to London when he realizes that The Pirate Captain’s parrot Polly is not a Parrot at all but a supposedly extinct Dodo Bird. I loved the little bits of evolution humor they sprinkled into the story with his character, as well as the very Wallace and Gromit-ish laughs provided by his flash-card-communicating monkey butler. Imelda Staunton (aka Professor Umbridge) plays Queen Victoria, who’s physical ridiculousness is highlighted by the evil twist they give her motivations for acquiring Polly from The Pirate Captain.
As I said, this movie is largely geared towards younger audiences. The humor is mostly slapstick and very, very British, so if you’re not a fan of other Aardman Animations movies like Chicken Run then you probably won’t find anything for you here. If you are though, you’ll be very familiar with the sorts of extended comic chase sequences that fill up nearly half the movie here. Honestly, as far as the comedy side of the film goes there were a lot of things that made me smile and chuckle a bit but nothing that made me, how you say, Laugh Out Loud. Being able to smile throughout a movie is nice, but I really would have preferred more full-on hilarious moments to give it a bit more punch.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 – Superior
+ Great vocal work by Grant and the rest of the crew (Except Piven, screw that guy)
+ Some great nuggets of silly British humor
+ Doesn’t completely rely on making it’s main characters complete buffoons for laughs
– Simple Plot, overuse of slapstick you’d expect from a movie geared towards family audiences
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fast Film Reviews: 3.5/5
The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5
The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 6.4/10