The Pirates: Band of Misfits
dir. Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt
Release Date: Apr 27, 12
Aardman has long been one of the most steadfast producers of hilarious, wildly imaginative family-friendly movies for quite some time now. Flushed Away notwithstanding, the studio behind the Wallace & Gromit series and Chicken Run specializes in what could be called the anti-Dreamworks style. They typically eschew modern trappings and the easy comedy of peddling “grown-up” references to kids, instead going for something that looks traditional but somehow always feels innovative. It’s underwhelming, then, to see The Pirates: Band of Misfits, which has that very issue to a T.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is relentlessly enthusiastic about his job, but unfortunately, he’s not very good at it. Hoping to one day become Pirate of the Year, he sets out with his crew, one which epitomizes the term motley. After several failed raids (in a montage that’s one of the film’s funny moments), he’s ready to quit while not at all ahead, until he encounters Charles Darwin (David Tennant), a squirrelly double agent who realizes that the Captain’s prized parrot is actually the last living dodo. Darwin plans to make off with it, with the aid of his anthropomorphized monkey manservant, and present it to the pirate-hunting Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton). So, the Captain and his crew end up travelling to London, where certain death all but surely awaits them.
There’s no shortage of whimsy in Pirates, but most of it doesn’t land because of the very sort of cynicism that often infects modern family movies. From constant mockery of scientists and Darwin by the Captain, the film’s ostensible hero, to a finale that doesn’t really land despite a sinking ship and an explosion of rapidly rising dough, there’s very little of the cockeyed ingenuity that’s characterized many of Aardman’s classics. There are flourishes of it throughout (an extended conversation with a jailed pirate as he hangs over a river, the crew’s aptitude for rapid costume changes), but most of the film just takes the lazier shortcuts of heartwarming messages about staying true to one’s friends and not particularly well-executed pratfalls. The Pirates: Band of Misfits isn’t anywhere near insulting to its presumably young audience, but any discerning kid will probably hunger for more.