The Pirates! Band of Misfits Review

Not even pirates are safe from the follies of political correctness.  Indeed, those of you who have been following The Pirates! Band of Misfits are no doubt familiar with the leprosy joke made in many of its trailers.   Fret not!  This small and somewhat humorous gag’s use of the phrase ‘leper boat’ has been changed to ‘plague boat’ in the final version of the film.  Apparently, it caused a bit of a stir in certain circles and was considered insensitive.  Sure, whatever.  Let’s just ban all comedy routines now before it gets out that there are vile people who make their living off of the pain, suffering and misadventures of others.  How low can you get?!

Alas, those of you who have also been following Movie Burger for some time might recall that The Pirates! was number 10 on my top 10 most anticipated movies list of 2012 – if only because it involved pirates and because I was looking forward to seeing Aardman, the studio famed for Wallace & Gromit, tackle stop-motion clay animation once again.  In these categories, at least, co-directors Peter Lord (Chicken Run) and Jeff Newitt succeed; there’s plenty of booty, hooks, peg legs and argh-ing, and the visuals are bright, colourful and full of character (benefitting from liberal use of CGI).  It’s the rest that disappoints.

What’s the rope attached to that he’s swinging from?

The plot has incompetent and luxuriously bearded The Pirate Captain (an unrecognisable Hugh Grant having fun in a great voice acting role) attempting to win the annual Pirate of the Year contest with the aid of his misfit crew (a well rounded cast of British talent, including Martin Freeman and Brendan Gleeson).  The problem however, is that Mr. Captain suffers from Pirates of the Caribbean syndrome in that he, as a ‘good’ pirate, doesn’t really fit the definition of a pirate.  He’s simply too nice and consistently fails to rack up any booty – honestly, who would steal from school students on a geography field trip?  For shame!

After one failed plundering, The Pirate Captain meets Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who identifies his parrot Polly as a rare dodo previously thought extinct.  The mission is clear: present Pollie to the scientific community in London to win untold riches then return to Blood Island (named so because it’s in the shape of blood) to win Pirate of the Year since it’s the pirate with the most booty who wins.  Things naturally go awry, this time mostly thanks to some ‘sinister forces’ and the pirate-hating, dodo-loving Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton reprising a Dolores Umbridge tone of voice).  This could all be very exciting but it’s predictably plotted, without wit and lacks the creative spark that fuels the film’s stellar animation.

As it is The Pirates! Band of Misfits is serviceable and likeable enough but it’s the story, which adapts author and screenwriter Gideon Defoe’s book series, that lacks surprise and feels wholly run-of-the-mill, revelling in its British sense of humour and little else.  It’s funny, but could be funnier, though it’s also the kind of movie that you could watch multiple times and always pick out some extra detail or background visual gag – it’s clear that much time was spent on animating each second of film.  I particularly enjoyed references to the Elephant Man and Jane Austen, and liked how The Pirate Captain inadvertently influenced Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Regardless, I just wish it wasn’t so sleight, like a tasty but small burger that ultimately fails to satisfy and leaves you hungry for something – anything – more.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a lighthearted romp on the high seas, masterfully animated with stop-motion techniques, but disappointingly tame and short on genuine thrills.  

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