I first found The Pirates! books by accident. I was wondering around Half Price Books and stumbled on one of the volumes shelved on an end-cap in a section of the store that I usually never enter. It looked like an interesting tale so I picked up the work. As I read the book, I kept busting out laughing with the rollicking adventure of the Pirate Captain and his crew as they sailed the seas in search of adventure. The book was a cross between Monty Python and the best of Douglas Adams. Author Gideon Defoe had built a world full of humor and wonder that sparked the imagination.
When I found out that there was to be a movie, I was worried. When Hollywood gets a hold of a product, they usually destroy the concept. Then I discovered that Aardman Animation, the UK company that made the Wallace and Gromit films were involved, my fears were abated. This is one of the best animation companies on the planet, specializing in three dimensional aka puppet animation.
The movie is based on the novel The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.
The story is of the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and his merry band of pirates. Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) declares a war on the marauders of the seas just as the Pirates are going to choose the Pirate of the Year. The Pirate Captain wants that honor. It seems to be based on how much booty has been stolen and the Pirate Captain is just a bit low on accounts.
In his search for riches, the Pirate Captain runs across a young Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who convinces him that winning the Best Scientist prize is worth it’s weight in gold. The winning has to do with the Pirate Captain’s ‘parrot’ Polly.
So, the Pirate Captain and the crew head into Queen Victoria’s London in order to win the science faire. We also meet Darwin’s ‘man-panzee’ Mister Bobo, a stunning proof on the idea of evolution. Soon, it is discovered that both Darwin and the Queen have motives that do not serve the Pirate Captain. It is a silly romp, full of colorful characters, wild puns and joyful mayhem.
As much as I really do not like 3D in the movies, the effect works well in this instance. There are details that jump off the screen. The makers have combined traditional puppet animations with computer generated images in a seamless mixture of styles. It is a testament to how far the medium has grown over the years. Director Peter Lord has taken the books and made them work in this visual setting.
The voice cast is impressive. Hugh Grant has this winsome sing-song in his voice as if he is enjoying every moment of voicing such an over the top character. Both Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven have smaller roles but they still deliver the laughs. Imelda Staunton just roars in her over the top characterization.
My only hope is that the film makes so much money that a sequel is inevitable. This is they kind of series that the cinema needs. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is the best of a family film, something that both the kids and grandma can enjoy. It should not be missed.