out of Five
Running time: 88
Inventively directed and beautifully animated, this is a hugely enjoyable and frequently hilarious family adventure with a witty script, a terrific voice cast and a high enough gag rate to ensure the film will appeal to both adults and children.
What's it all about?
Co-directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (re-titled The Pirates: Band of Misfits in the US) is the latest stop-motion feature from Aardman Animation, based on the series of books by Gideon Defoe. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain, who hungers after the coveted Pirate of the Year Award but is constantly beaten by arch rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) or Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).
After his latest humiliating defeat, Pirate Captain vows to win the award at all costs, but he gets distracted when he encounters scientist Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who informs him that his beloved parrot Polly is in fact the last surviving dodo. Assuming that assorted boffins will reward them handsomely for their find, the pirates set sail for London, aiming to present Polly to the Royal Society, but they've reckoned without pirate-hating monarch Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
The voice cast is excellent: Hugh Grant abandons his usual Hugh Grant voice (you know the one) and turns in a delightful, warm-hearted performance, while there's terrific support from Martin Freeman (as Pirate With Scarf, Pirate Captain's right-hand man), David Tennant and Imelda Staunton. There are also smaller, but no less effective turns from Piven, Hayek, Brendan Gleeson (as Pirate with Gout), Lenny Henry (as Peg Leg Hastings), Ashley Jensen (as Surprisingly Curvaceous
Pirate) and the one and only Brian Blessed, in a roaring cameo as The Pirate King.
The inventive, witty script is packed full of hilarious gags, both verbal and visual, with jokes aimed at both children and adults (e.g. an inspired cameo by The Elephant Man). There are also several brilliant running gags, such as the pirates' fondness for disguise, the character of Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate and Darwin's flashcard-monkey butler (though that joke had its thunder stolen slightly by the recent A Monster in Paris).
As you'd expect from Aardman, The Pirates! is both beautiful to look at and crammed with wonderful background details, ensuring that the film will reward multiple viewings. On top of that, Lord orchestrates some superb action sequences that will give you new respect for Plasticine.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable, beautifully made and frequently hilarious animated adventure that should prove a big hit with both adults and children alike. Highly recommended and here's hoping for a sequel.
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (U)