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"THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS"
(2012) (voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action: In the 19th century, a pirate captain runs afoul of Queen Victoria as he tries to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award.
PLOT:
The Pirate Captain (voice of HUGH GRANT) wants to finally prove his mettle as a pirate. To do so, he must win the coveted Pirate of the Year award and bring in the most booty (i.e. gold). When he gets to the pirates' Blood Island, site of the competition, he discovers that his rivals Black Bellamy (voice of JEREMY PIVEN), Cutlass Liz (voice of SELMA HAYEK), and Peg Leg Hastings (voice of LENNY HENRY) have looted and stolen a lot more treasure.

So he sets sail for more loot with his trusty crew, who include: his second in command, the Pirate with the Scarf (voice of MARTIN FREEMAN); the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (voice of ASHLEY JENSEN), a female pirate masquerading as a man; and the Pirate With Gout (voice of BRENDAN GLEESON). On the high seas, they come across the scientist Charles Darwin (voice of DAVID TENNANT) who identifies the Pirate Captain's parrot, Polly, as the extinct species dodo.

Told that the bird is worth a lot of money, the Pirate Captain travels to London with Darwin despite it being under the rule of the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (voice of IMELDA STAUNTON). There, the Captain must decide between staying loyal to his pet and crew or giving in to his own selfish ambitions.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
After four "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, I thought I had tired of the pirate genre. There's just so many "Arrrrs" and "Arrrrrghs!" one can take. But leave it up to England's Aardman Animation to come up with its own daffy spin on the treasure-obsessed buccaneers of yore. "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is a slight, but very entertaining action comedy that mixes Aardman's signature stop-motion animation techniques with the latest digital wizardry. You may tire of the story, but you'll never tire just watching this flick.

In the 19th century, Hugh Grant plays the slightly inept, self-obsessed Pirate Captain who dreams only of winning the Pirate of the Year award. The annual honor goes to the scurvy skipper who brings in the most gold loot and treasure. But when three of his rivals clearly bring a LOT more than he has, the Pirate Captain sets sail with his loyal crew basically in search of the Big Score. They potentially find it right under their noses when they raid a ship carrying Charles Darwin (voice of David Tennant), who recognizes the Captain's parrot as a rare dodo bird.

Together, they travel to London where they run afoul of the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (voice of Imelda Staunton), who belongs to a secret society of world rulers who convene from time to time to hatch global conspiracies and eat extremely rare and believed to be extinct species. It becomes a bragging right to find the most obscure creature, and Victoria covets the Captain's Polly. At the same time, the nerdy Darwin is in love with the Queen and plots against the pirates.

The film is a bit heady for children. Really little kids are not going to get all of the references to Darwin, Jane Austen, the Elephant Man, and so forth. And some of the accents are quite thick, which will cause a bit of unease in the seats from the little ones. It's one of those films that will really be appreciated more by older moviegoers. But will the marketing get them into the seats?

Who knows? My task is to judge it on its creative merits, and this is a good one, folks. The amount of detail the Aardman artists are able to pack the screen with is the most impressive part of the film. There's so much happening in the backgrounds of most scenes - everything from silly Most Wanted posters to such modern tweaks as Post-It notes in the Pirate Captain's study serving as to-do reminders - that it really becomes quite an enjoyable "Easter egg hunt" for amusement in nearly every frame of this pic.

The voice talent here is terrific, too. Hugh Grant could probably never play a pirate in a live-action film. So you can tell he has great fun here as the Captain, keeping his trademark Grant-ian stammer to a minimum and playing up the Captain's vanity. I also really enjoyed Staunton as the villainous Victoria, who really cuts loose during the film's climax and becomes a formidable baddie. And while the film plays down the violent tendencies of what we've come to know as pirates, it still embraces their hard-drinking, establishment-bucking ways that jack the film's G-rated content to a PG.

There are a few structural nitpicks I have with the flick. Early on, we are introduced with great flair to the Pirate Captain's three rivals - the boastful Black Bellamy (voice of Jeremy Piven), the uncaring Cutlass Liz (voice of Salma Hayek), and the flamboyant Peg Leg Hastings (voice of Lenny Henry). They are easily established as big personalities and formidable competitors of the Pirate Captains. And then they are largely discarded until they make glorified cameos early in the film's third act. Very strange.

At the same time, you can always chalk up nitpicks and criticisms to the one simple excuse: "Ah, it's British." "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is indeed a very British movie a la "Arthur Christmas" and "Wallace & Gromit." As such, the film plays around with language and is prone to digressions and odd flights of fancy. This is a movie where the key to enjoying it is how much you get into the spirit of it. I did and was rewarded with some fine movie booty. Enough, that is, to give the film a 6.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed April 21, 2012 / Posted April 27, 2012


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