Of all the animated features in the past year, The Pirates! Band of Misfits was one that was the least visible on my radar. From Aardman Animation, the British film studio that created Wallace and Grommit, I vaguely remember The Pirates! being in theaters. With my love of animation and all things pirate related, I told my husband that we should go see it, but I must have gotten distracted. It was out of the theaters sooner than I realized. What a gem I had missed!
Based on the book series by Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! Band of Misfits is about The Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant) and his crew’s adventures as he tries to win the award for Pirate of the Year. Captain’s chances seem pretty slim, not just because he has lost for about twenty years. The other candidates are much more ruthless, have a lot more booty, and they all make quite an entrance. In Captain’s quest for award winning booty, he and his crew storm ship after ship, but always come up empty handed.
Here’s where most summaries and trailers you’ll find end and some unexpected fun begins. Captain and his crew come across The Beagle, complete with a young Charles Darwin (David Tennant) on board. When Darwin informs Captain that his beloved parrot, Polly, is actually a dodo bird, thought to be extinct, the chance to win a prize for scientific discovery entices Captain enough to risk going to London, where Queen Victoria has an intense hatred for pirates. Between Captain wanting the prize for the booty and Darwin wanting the prize to impress Queen Victoria, poor Polly’s fate may be in jeopardy. And Captain may lose focus on what it really means to be a pirate.
I know some may be thinking that pirate movies have been overdone, thanks to all those Pirates of the Caribbean films. Sure, we get goofy pirate jokes, but there is so much more than that. The action is more than sword fights and cannon balls. The vocabulary is much more broad than ‘arrgh’ and ‘savvy’. A lot of fun comes out of being a pirate, but it’s not the only key the film can play in.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I was laughing nearly every minute of this film. There are so many fun little gags throughout the film, from quick evolution jokes that leave Darwin confused, to funny things to catch in the background. In fact, I watched the film a second time and was surprised by how many jokes I missed on my first viewing. The entire tone of the film is perfectly goofy, delightfully fun and has an unexpected heart of gold. The characters, though their names are mostly descriptions (Albino Pirate, Pirate With Gout, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate), are full of lighthearted whimsy and each brings more fun to the table. Best of all, I’d say nearly all these laughs are kid friendly, but effortlessly hook adults too.
Some of my favorite gags happen during the map sequences. In a quick transition we get fun tid-bits of the pirates’ journey, without an unnecessary scene, complete with upbeat music. It seems that the little dots appear on the map behind them because they set out little dots on the sea. The decorative mermaids, Poseidon and cherubs interact with the ship and toss them along the sea/paper. At one point they hide behind a letter to avoid a British fleet. They even stop at a duty free store just before hitting London!
I thought I had this Oscar race picked easily for the best animated feature. Honestly, I enjoyed The Pirates! more than any other animated film this year and it completely deserves its Oscar nomination. The more I think about, the more I love it. Thing is, The Academy isn’t always kind to stop-motion animation, or goofy stories, no matter how big its heart is. But right now, I don’t care what they think, I love The Pirates! Band of Misfits, desperately want it in my blu-ray collection and I highly recommend it for everyone, even if you don’t believe in evolution.
“The best thing about being a pirate is ham night!”