Ethan Alter reviews Peter Lord’s new animated movie for televisionwithoutpity.com. See link below for original report.
Why is it so tough to make a great modern-day pirate movie? The first Pirates of the Caribbean romp came close, but that film suffered somewhat from a super-sized runtime and dull leading man (not Johnny Depp — the other one, Borlando Gloom). Otherwise, the list of pirate-related projects from the past few decades offers one misfire after another, from Roman Polanski’s Pirates to Renny Harlin’s infamous Cutthroat Island to that shoulda-gone-direct-to-DVD Veggie Tales feature The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything to, of course, all three POTC sequels.
Apparently, the genre’s curse is so powerful, it’s even affected the geniuses over at Aardman Animations, the British animation studio behind such superior stop-motion animated productions as the Wallace and Gromit shorts and Chicken Run. For their latest production, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Aardman co-founder and Chicken Run co-director Peter Lord loosely adapts the first installment in a series of comic pirate novels by Gideon Defoe (who wrote the screenplay for the film) into an episodic high-seas adventure marred by long stretches where the movie sits becalmed, waiting for the next gust of spirited whimsy to move it along. Despite being Aardman’s second-weakest animated feature to date (after the 2006 rats-in-the-sewer picture, Flushed Away), the studio is simply too good at its job to make a movie that doesn’t offer some pleasure. Here are five things that make The Pirates! worth seeing, especially if your tykes are going through animation withdrawal since The Lorax left theaters.
1. Hugh Grant
It’s hard to remember the last time Grant delivered a live-action performance that wasn’t a paycheck-cashing, phoned-in turn, but apparently not having to appear on camera has revived his interest in actually… well, acting. As the film’s hero — the stalwart, yet stumblebum Pirate Captain, whose sole goal in life is to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award — Grant hits upon a voice that captures the character in all his blustery, befuddled glory and doesn’t sound a bit like his usual self. Grant also wisely doesn’t try to compete with Johnny Depp’s Captain Sparrow in terms of sheer outlandishness. Instead, he reaches back in time to channel the braggadocio of the pirate heroes of yesteryear like Errol Flynn while also peppering his speech with plenty of comic zest. We’d be interested in seeing a sequel to The Pirates! simply to be able to hear Grant reprise a role that he actually seems to give a damn about.
2. The Stop-Motion Animation
As much as we love the dazzling computer animated landscapes and characters brought to life by Pixar, they just don’t have the immersive quality and rich detail offered by a truly top-flight stop-motion animated feature. (That’s a big reason why Coraline may be our favorite American animated movie of the past couple years, with Fantastic Mr. Fox running a close second.) Even when Band of Misfits is struggling to find its storytelling groove, the hand-crafted puppets and sets are a pleasure to watch. Even though CGI has become the dominant form of animation, there should always be a place for stop-motion artistry.
3. The Town House Chase
Going all the way back to that terrific toy train chase that closes out The Wrong Trousers, almost every Aardman production offers at least one imaginatively designed and executed chase sequence. In The Pirates! that scene comes when the Pirate Captain falls through the roof of the London town house where he’s staying and lands in the bathtub. The bathtub then falls through the floor and proceeds to careen bobsled-style through the rest of the house until bursting out the front door. It’s a high point that the movie sadly never reaches again.
4. Polly and Mister Bobo
Next to the Pirate Captain, the movie’s most popular characters (particularly with kids) will likely be these two mute animals that accompany the crew on their travels. Polly is the Captain’s pet parrot… or so he thinks. In actuality, she’s the world’s last living dodo bird and that revelation is what sets the plot (such as it is) in motion, as she becomes the target of both Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin, who are after her for wildly different purposes. Mister Bobo, meanwhile, is Darwin’s “man-panzee” — a chimp that’s been dressed up as a man to see if that teases out his human side. Thanks to their funny reaction shots and participation in solid sight gags, both of these characters prove to be reliable sources of laughs.
5. A Flight of the Conchords Reunion (Sort Of)
We haven’t seen or heard much of the Conchords since their HBO series ended, but Bret and Jemaine make a cameo of sorts here when their tune “I’m Not Crying” plays over a sad montage of a disgraced Pirate Captain wandering aimlessly around the streets of London. It may not be an all-new song, but it’s great to hear the boys again. Hey, when is Aardmen going to give them their own stop-motion animated adventure? It might not be kid-friendly, but we’d be first in line to check it out.
For the original report go to http://www.televisionwithoutpity.com/mwop/moviefile/2012/04/five-reasons-why-the-pirates-b.php