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The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Film Review

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The Pirates Band of Misfits - Anton Yelchin, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant, Ashley Jensen and Brendan Gleeson
Arriving for the Pirate of the Year competition are shipmates Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin/Russell Tovey), Pirate With a Scarf (Martin Freeman), Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) and Pirate With Gout (Brendan Gleeson) © 2012 Sony Pictures Animation Inc

Amazingly animated and stupendously silly, this thoroughly entertaining all-ages comedy is what might have resulted if Monty Python concocted a zany pirate yarn that both kids and adults could enjoy. The voice cast is wonderful, the tongue-in-cheek screenplay is an absurd delight and the character and set designs are ridiculously charming.

Hugh Grant voices the incompetent but ever optimistic Pirate Captain, whose dream is to win the Pirate of the Year competition. One of the movie’s gags is that members of his cheerfully loyal crew go by generically descriptive names such as Albino Pirate (voiced by Anton Yelchin in the US version and Russell Tovey in the UK release) and Pirate With Gout (Brendan Gleeson). Although it’s plainly obvious that the fake-bearded Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) is female, none of her shipmates notice. Pirate Captain’s second in command is the unusually rational Pirate With a Scarf, aka Number Two (Martin Freeman), the only one in the bunch with any sense.

Pirate Captain’s rivals for the trophy are intimidatingly formidable. His longtime antagonist Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) arrives in a cascade of gold from the mouth of a leaping whale, which is a pretty tough act to follow. The cartoonishly sexy Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) appears with the world’s biggest diamond.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Hugh Grant and David Tennant
Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and Charles Darwin (David Tennant) join forces to confront the villainous Queen Victoria © 2012 Sony Pictures Animation Inc

Pirate Captain’s attempts to accumulate equivalently prizeworthy plunder take him from the West Indies to 1837 London, after a chance encounter with Charles Darwin (Doctor Who‘s David Tennant). Darwin’s hybrid “man-panzee” servant Mister Bobo, a dignified but devious intelligent chimp who communicates using flash cards, is as deadpan hilarious as a silent-picture star.

When it comes to revisionist irreverence, the movie’s portrayal of Darwin as a sneaky thief is nothing compared to its version of Queen Victoria as a violence-prone villain. Imelda Staunton voices the pirate-hating regent, who wants to put Pirate King’s parrot-that’s-not-a-parrot Polly on the menu.

Adapted by Gideon Defoe from his book The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, the screenplay’s endearing sense of humor includes both broad laughs (an extended chase scene featuring a runaway bathtub and an Easter Island monolith) and goofy throwaway gags (Jane Austen tossing a tankard at the Elephant Man’s head). It’s the nonsensical non sequiturs that make the offbeat adventure so consistently fun, such as the pirates’ shipboard “Ham Nite,” Queen Victoria’s indoor promenades on a tiny pony or a pub sign promoting urchin throwing.

The movie was produced by the Aardman Animations studio in the same stop-motion frame-by-frame style as its wonderful Wallace & Gromit franchise, using sculpted models and elaborate sets along with some computer-generated effects. The Pirates! Band of Misfits director and studio co-founder Peter Lord also helmed the company’s 2000 stop-motion feature Chicken Run.

Asked to name three elements in order to qualify for admission to a scientific event, the disguised Pirate Captain answers, “Gold, ham and the tears of a mermaid.” The gatekeeper replies, “Two out of three, close enough.” If that tickles your skull-and-funnybones, set sail for the nearest theater with all due speed.

[Rating: 4 stars]

The Pirates! Band of Misfits theatrical release date in US and Canada is Friday April 27, 2012. UK release was on March 28, 2012. Australia release was April 5, 2012.