Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Animated comedy ‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits' finds its sea legs

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt. Screenplay by Gideon Dafoe, based on his book. An Aardman/ Sony Pictures Animation release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG for mild action, rude humor and some language. Running time: 88 minutes.

Critic's rating: ***

Voices provided by Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Martin Freeman


Pirate with a Scarf, voiced by Martin Freeman, left, and Pirate Captain, voiced by Hugh Grant, are shown in a scene from "The Pirates! Band of Misfits."

Sony Pictures Enlarge

Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt have never met a pirate pun they didn't like. And if they have, they certainly didn't bother to include it in their new animated film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits.

The co-directors of the new high-seas comedy-adventure have loaded the film with jokes about the pirate's life: plundering, booty, and ham. The gags work more often than they don't, though parents of younger children should be mindful of the film's PG rating, for a few words you wouldn't find in a Disney film.

The film is the tale of the Pirate Captain who desperately wants to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award and show up the other pirates who laugh at him. To do that will take a lot of plundering — though it rarely goes according to plan, including raiding ships of a nudist colony and those infected with the plague. During the Pirate Captain's oceanic misadventures he meets a pre-fame Charles Darwin, who convinces him to sail to London to enter his parrot Polly in a science competition. Polly is actually the last dodo bird, and the Pirate Captain expects to win the competition and receive as a prize enough riches to win the Pirate of the Year. But the villainous Queen Victoria, who happens to despise pirates, has a different plan for the Pirate Captain and his rare bird.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is based on a series of humorous books about the inept Pirate Captain and his loyal crew written by Gideon Defoe, who also wrote the screenplay. Defoe goes for the obvious laugh on many occasions, but it's his subtle, very British jokes — "like the time I used babies as squid bait" — that will win over parents.

The film's cast is a mix of known and quasi-known actors who offer warm, funny, and enthusiastic voice work: Hugh Grant as The Pirate Captain, Martin Freeman as The Pirate with a Scarf aka No. 2, Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria, David Tennant as Charles Darwin, Anton Yelchin as The Albino Pirate, and Brendan Gleeson as The Pirate with Gout. Also in the cast are voice cameos by Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek as rival pirate captains, and Brian Blessed as The Pirate King. (Star Wars fans should instantly recognize Blessed's distinctive baritone as Boss Nass from Star Wars: Episode I ­­— The Phantom Menace. At least we were spared Ahmed Best/Jar Jar Binks.)

It's the brilliant animation that's the true star of the film.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a 3-D stop-motion animated film produced by Aardman Animations in conjunction with Sony Pictures Animation. Aardman Animations is the same group behind the claymation Wallace & Gromit shorts and feature film and 2000's Chicken Run. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is the studio's most visually impressive work yet, a seamless blend of traditional claymation technique with state-of-the-art CGI effects, such as the richly detailed pirate ship models cruising through a computer-animated ocean foam. The 3-D effect is crisp and immersing.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits may look better than its predecessors, but it lacks the consistent wit of Chicken Run and feel-good charm of Wallace & Gromit to be considered another classic. This is a good Aardman Animations feature, from a studio that's proved itself capable of being better than good.

Contact Kirk Baird at or 419-724-6734.

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