Director: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Cast: Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Martin Freeman, Brian Blessed, Lenny Henry, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven
Watch The Pirates! Band of Misfits online: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Carving their own plasticine niche in the creature feature and prison break genre, the talented team at Aardman lend their pliability to the popular subject of pirates for their latest big-screen assault. The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists (or, as Netflix and the US call it, The Pirates! Band of Misfits) follows wannabe swashbuckler the Pirate Captain (Grant) and his loveable, stereotypical crew – and a particularly big-boned parrot.
Together, they sail the Seven Seas in search of fame and fortune, battling the formidable pirate-hating monarch Queen Victoria (Staunton) and allying with luckless young scientist Charles Darwin (Tennant), while hoping to finally win the coveted Pirate of the Year award (dished out by Brian Blessed). In between, they eat a lot of ham.
Previous Aardman films have been smart at mixing a simple kid-friendly plot with pop culture snippets of genius. Based on Gideon Defoe’s books, The Pirates! rivals Shrek for family appeal – from magazine covers and piratical bling to a very familiar blue ship badge (plus a soundtrack of Brit pop classics), parents will have fun spotting references and identifying the stellar voice cast while the kids enjoy breathtaking action and slapstick humour aplenty.
The animation is beautiful and the one-liners are hilarious, but the plot feels a few buckles short of a swash – as Victoria becomes increasingly powerful, the script turns into too much of a roller coaster to give great characters (Tennant’s Darwin and Martin Freeman’s loyal first mate, The Pirate with a Scarf) and clever details the time to develop.
Marrying British wit with the traditionally “all mouth, no trousers” pirate genre should have been putty in Aardman’s hands, but this frantic frolic falls just a cannonball short of true greatness. Nonetheless, if you’re a fan of big-boned parrots, Darwinism and ham, this Arrrrdman film is fun for all the family.
The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists! is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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