In The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Hugh Grant stars in his first animated role as the luxuriantly bearded Pirate Captain Ė a boundlessly enthusiastic, if somewhat less-than-successful, terror of the High Seas. With a rag-tag crew at his side (Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson, Russell Tovey, and Ashley Jensen), and seemingly blind to the impossible odds stacked against him, the Captain has one dream: to beat his bitter rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) to the much coveted Pirate Of The Year Award. Itís a quest that takes our heroes from the shores of exotic Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London. Along the way they battle a diabolical queen (Imelda Staunton) and team up with a haplessly smitten young scientist (David Tennant), but never lose sight of what a pirate loves best: adventure! (from Facebook.com/PiratesMovie)
Aardman is the brains behind the stop motion projects of Wallace and Grommitt and Chicken Run, and have even ventured into the world of CG animation with Flushed Away. After toying with the idea of making their latest venture, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, in CG, they decided it was a story best told in the classic medium of stop-motion animation. While "claymation" - stop motion animation using characters made out clay - is more or less a thing of the past, Aardman utilized resin figures with various movable pieces (like hundreds of different interchangeable mouths for some characters), and some CG landscapes to bring The Pirates! to life on screen.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is derived from a series of books by author Gideon Defoe, which didn't have any original illustrations in them, leaving the Aardman team to dream up the Pirates world almost entirely from scratch. Building elaborate miniature sets and figurines with wire skeletons, The Pirates were created in familiar settings with that unique Aardman style applied to them. The story itself revolves around a band of pirates lead by The Pirate Captain who, incidentally, isn't a very good pirate. His parrot is fat, his crew unorthodox, and his plundering abilities instinctively off. However, he and his crew believe they're all exceptional pirates and that The Pirate Captain is a shoe-in for The Pirate of The Year award. But when he realizes his competition is a bit stiff, he sets out on a voyage to plunder enough treasure to win the coveted trophy.
On his quest, Captain encounters science explorer Charles Darwin. Interestingly enough, Darwin isn't just a fleeting character for the film. He soon encourages Captain to enter a science contest back in London for "untold riches" and he joins the pirates' quest. What's kind of even more intriguing is the Aardman team doesn't take Darwin all too seriously. Most people know he's credited for the theory of evolution and so some references are made to this, but it isn't something that's focused on. In a way, Darwin fills the role of a villain of sorts for a good part of the story, but he does kind of redeem himself near the end (but that doesn't stop the filmmakers from making a fool out of him on more than one occasion). Basically, everything in Pirates! is 'all in good fun,' so it's difficult to get too upset over the inclusion of the theorist of evolution in a film largely aimed at kids.
But it's the content of The Pirates! Band of Misfits that will be a bit of a red flag for some parents. There are only about two iffy words, including one use of "arse" and one of "cr*p." There's a little bit of suggestive innuendo, but it's mostly stuff that would go over kids heads (they call a female pirate a "trollop" in one scene, but that's not a word kids will likely know). Pirate Captain also finds himself on a ship full of "Naturists" and we see the nude crewmembers with various foreground objects blocking any nudity. It's, at least, a fleeting scene. Otherwise, violence is the main concern of Pirates!, with everything from small brawls and characters hitting each other to pirates with peglegs and hooks for limbs to a female pirate that stabs and kills two pirates in two different scenes in the film. Overall, it's a bit edgy at times for a kids' film, so it can be expected that this movie is more geared toward older children.
But as an end product, The Pirates! Band of Misfits probably won't be remembered as one of the best animated films of the year, but there's enough charm, fascinating visuals (that make you wonder how in the world they accomplished that stop-motion shot), and silly gags to keep the movie entertaining from start to finish. All of the voice acting is top-notch too, with an impressive cast that includes Hugh Grant, Marin Freeman, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin and many others. In an age where film companies are more likely to enlist the help of some popular pop singer than a seasoned actor to provide a voice, it's refreshing to see just so much talent used here. And to just kind of give you an idea of the sort of offbeat humor the movie utilizes, there is a stereotypical "break-up" scene that leaves the hero by himself and, to wink at the audience during this moment, the song "I'm Not Crying" by Flight of the Conchords is effectively used.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits may not be the best animated film of 2012, or even the best comedy, but there are plenty of things to like about it. It's probably more on the edgier side than some will expect (and just the presence of Charles Darwin will turn off some viewers), with the humor being of British origin, but fans of this kind of comedy should appreciate it more so. Aardman has also had stronger movies previously, but The Pirates! Band of Misfits is still a decent and fun animated adventure.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/25/12)
"So You Want To Be A Pirate!" Short Film (18:07) - This is an almost-TV-episode-long animated short that features all of the main Pirates! characters as part of a pseudo-talk show. It's pretty silly but a wonderfully fun addition to this set. It's one of the better "mini movies" included with the video release. (As far as content goes, it's about as comedically violent as the rest of the movie, but nothing too bad otherwise)
Pirate Disguise Dress-Up Game - This is a timed outfit-matching game you play with the buttons on your Blu-Ray remote control. It's not all that fun, but kids may enjoy it.
From Stop To Motion (20:52) - This is a tremendous behind-the-scenes featurette that covers just about everything that has to do with the production of The Pirates!, from story to sound. Here, they talk about how the film was derived from books written by Gideon Defoe, and then they show how it was conceived from there. They'd decided to make it stop motion instead of CG after seeing example sets being designed. After that, we see the models, sets, characters, and examples of how the animation was achieved. We also see some of the main voice cast (really only Hugh Grant and Martin Freeman) and then are shown just a glimpse at sound and music recording. It's a wonderful featurette. (1 "h*ll")
Creating The Bath Chase Sequence (8:22) - From the storyboards to the final film, we see how the "Bath Chase Sequence" was planned and executed. It's fascinating to see all the tricks they implemented to accomplish the complicated shot, and it's a great insight into the process of stop motion animation.
Peter Lord Short Films is a pair of homemade stop-motion claymation videos this director, Peter Lord, made some years ago. Both have optional commentary from Lord as well. "Wat's Pig" (11:25), the first one, was made in 1996 and is the tale of a pair of twins who were separated at birth-- one in royalty, the other in poverty. "War Story" (5:27) was apparently even older, but is uniquely based on a true story using real audio from a story relayed from a man's own experiences. It wasn't scripted at all, with the audio of the narrator being real. It's a quirky but an interesting story visually. Both have nothing at all to do with the feature film, The Pirates!, but those interested in this kind of animation may really enjoy them.
A feature-length commentary with Director Peter Lord, Co-Director Jeff Newitt and Editor Justin Krish rounds out the extras on the blu-ray disc.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/25/12)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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