The Pirates! Band of Misfits | Film review
After a seven-year lull, Aardman Animations comes roaring back with a new stop-motion feature. Sheer delight from stem to stern, Pirates! is worth every minute of the wait. Though the studio has moved away from its Wallace-and-Gromit safe zone, this riotous cast contains clear stand-ins. The bumbling Pirate Captain (amusingly voiced by Hugh Grant) is an inept but lovable protagonist whose right-hand man (Martin Freeman) must be both smart and forgiving enough to continually save his hide. In the role of silent animal foe, we get Mr. Bobo, an uncanny chimp who rivals Feathers McGraw, the villainous penguin.
Even more identifiers place this romp right in Aardman’s delightful wheelhouse. Beyond the hilariously caricatured plasticine people and astonishingly detailed sets (Where’s the DVD already? We want to hit pause!), there’s a fascination with food (ham, not cheese, this time around) and an especially thrilling housebound chase that equals the climax of “The Wrong Trousers,” this one running down a treacherously winding staircase. Bonus: It happens about halfway through the movie, so there's still plenty of shenanigans left.
With character work and action sequences this grand, the plot almost wouldn’t matter, but it’s a cracking good one. Two unlikely villains, Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria, vie for the crew’s beloved Polly, a really ugly parrot that turns out to be a dodo. As the voice of Victoria, longtime Aardman actor Imelda Staunton gets to strut her stuff again. (She also had roles in Chicken Run and last year's CGI release from Aardman, the underrated Arthur Christmas.) This crazy butt-kicking queen has only has three settings—sickly (faux) sweet, menacing and all-out raging—and Staunton plays them all with vigor, delivering yet another memorable antagonist in an all-ages film. (She gave us a tittery but chillingly wicked Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films.)
Given that Gideon Defoe’s screenplay adapts his own quirky book series, let’s raise a yo-ho-toast to hopes for a sequel. We’ll set sail with these scalawags any day. Especially if it means more Mr. Bobo.