REVIEW: The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012) Dir. Peter Lord

I saw The Pirates! Band of Misfits again this weekend with my friend Hannah and thought I’d write some more about it.  When I saw the film when it first came out, I liked it but felt that the humor of the film wasn’t nearly as sharp and successful as some of Aardman’s earlier fantastic films like Wallace and Gromitt: Curse of the Wererabbit and Chicken Run.  It still has the charm though, never gets tiresome, and is overall an entertaining ride.  But while we know this is The Pirate Captain’s (Hugh Grant) movie, the film never really delves into it’s wealth of interesting supporting characters which is one of the areas where this film suffers compared to it’s predecessors.

I wanted to know more about Albino Pirate, Surprisingly Curvacious Pirate, and Number 2.  Because of their particular distinctions, you’d expect them to be open to plenty of character development, but instead they’re reduced to one note jokes as background filler for this odd crew.  There was also surprisingly little development on Pirate Captains pirate rivals, Black Bellamy, Cutlass Liz, and Peg Leg Hastings.  Bellamy has a moment where gets the chance to ruin Pirate Captains chances of becoming Pirate of the Year, but that’s the most these antagonists are used for.  It’s a shame because each of them shows great potential at being a serious threat to our hero, and they are opened up for that potential, but are never really used for most of the movie.

The main villains seat is reserved for Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who takes a cue from the Queen of Hearts school of anger management.  But the storyline about Captain’s parrot (a dodo) being captured and almost eaten by the queen isn’t all that interesting.  We kind of expect a movie about pirates to be about…well, pirate stuff.  I’m aware this is based on a book called “The Pirates! An Adventure in Science”, which is the films title in Britain, but the quest for Pirate of the Year seems to get side tracked by the whole scientific expedition storyline.  I would have rather seen a story where the Pirate Captain had to face off with his three rivals and actually have a pirate adventure in his quest for Pirate of the Year  instead of the whole storyline about the dodo.

 I also wanted to see the filmmakers take more chances with humor and the subject of pirates.  For a pirate movie, the humor just feels too safe.  Even though it’s a G rated film, I know Aardman has a knack for dancing around the line when it comes to their humor.  There are a few moments that are priceless (my favorite was the flushing toilet at Charles Darwin’s house).  But most of the gags are throwaways, and it’s hard to get any mileage out of them when them when there’s so little time devoted to character development.  It was most disappointing to me not seeing more development on Curvacious pirate who could have had a really interesting (and funny) storyline.

Most of the voice acting is well done, but some of the more major talent like Selma Hayek are wasted in such minor roles, and most of the other rivals who have great voices but nothing to do in the story.  Upon second viewing, I found that I really don’t like the American voice for Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin, Chekov of Star Trek).  He’s a good voice actor, but he just sounds out of place in this, and I’d be interested to hear the British take on this character.  Hugh Grant apparently came out of retirement to do this film, and he does a fine job making Pirate Captain a likeable character.

The thing I admire most of the film are Aardman’s great production values.  Watching it a second time I loved catching all the little sight gags in the background, and the attention to detail is just so good.  The animation is terrific as usual.  But one of the things I really loved was the terrific hand drawn animation on the map scenes.  The animation was really vibrant and full of life.  It gives me hope for those people keeping traditional animation alive for the future, and they did a great job here.  

It’s been a couple of weeks, and I’m sure this movie will soon be buried by the Avengers.  But it’s still worth seeing and is an enjoyable ride.  It’s not one of Aardman’s best in terms of story and characters, but it still has that charm that they are known for.  Definitely go see it while it’s still on the big screen.

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