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June 4, 2012

New Movies: The Pirates: Band of Misfits

By now we've come to expect a certain (high) level of quality from Aardman Animation—after all, these were the animated movies we started watching back in the 1990s, well before we had kids, when the company was dominating the animated short category at the Oscars. With rare exceptions, though, we've also come to expect Wallace and Gromit, and films like Chicken Run that defied that expectations, while perfectly well executed, always seemed to me to be missing that little spark of wacky Brit inspiration that puts the W&G oeuvre over the top. (Perhaps it's unfair to hold a studio to the standard of its very highest work, when that standard is rarely matched by anyone else either—but I do the same thing to Pixar, too. So I'm consistent!)

So when I saw the previews for The Pirates: Band of Misfitsa movie whose visual style was so clearly Aardman's that the credit was unnecessary—I wasn't so sure about it. My kids, however, had no such qualms—the preview had them at "Ghost ship—ooooooooh!"—and so we marched off to see it at the first opportunity. (We are not yet familiar with the book series by Gideon Defoe upon which the movie is based, though I'm thinking now we ought to become so shortly!)

The boys—veteran W&G fans themselves, I should add—could hardly have had a better time. And, grudgingly at first, neither could we, really: The story of the titular barely competent buccaneers and their captain—actually named the Pirate Captain and voiced by Hugh Grant in his best polite-English-discomfort mode—as they try to win the coveted Pirate of the Year trophy is silly, sure, but only in the manner of Aardman tradition. (After all, it's not like Wallace and Gromit's battle against the Were-Rabbit was exactly free of silliness.)

And, like the studio's previous work, all sorts of cleverness for parents is baked into the silly, including the inclusion of a young, corruptible Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) and a supervillainous Queen Victoria (the always marvelous Imelda Staunton) as major characters. For those of us missing the Buster Keaton-ish silent expressiveness of Gromit, there's even a similarly put-upon monkey named Mister Bobo that's been trained by Darwin as a butler (see above re: silly), whose deadpan communications via beautifully scripted written cards are hysterically funny.

Do I worry that I will need to clear up someday with my sons that Queen Victoria did not, as far as we are aware, chair an evil secret society that enjoyed capturing and eating endangered species? (Or, for that matter, that Darwin was not, as far as we know, romantically infatuated with that queen?) Yes. But will that be worth the rolling giggles I saw both my sons helplessly indulging in as they watched the film, some of which my wife and I were indulging in ourselves? I'd have to say yes as well.

[Image courtesy of Aardman Animation/Paramount Pictures]

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