Aardman Animations is a fantastic little studio in the U.K. that makes very entertaining, attractive, family-friendly pictures, including Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
and last year's wonderful new holiday staple, Arthur Christmas
. It seemed fair to be looking forward to their next endeavour, but The Pirates! Band of Misfits
didn't quite measure up to expectations.
The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is an outcast among his far more successful brethren. This is made even more painfully obvious when each year he is passed over for the Pirate of the Year Award. Though he couldn’t have a more loyal crew. The Pirate Captain decides this will finally be his year and while attempting to pillage the ocean he discovers his beloved, big-boned parrot Polly is actually a nearly extinct dodo bird. Escorted by Charles Darwin (David Tennant), the Pirate Captain goes to England to meet Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who is a collector of rare animals. While there, he's offered the chance to make his dreams come true, but at a significant cost.
The swashbuckler genre used to be a bit of a joke, with the most memorable entries being the Douglas Fairbanks pictures. Then Pirates of the Caribbean
came along and raised the bar for any sea tale that followed. But Band of Misfits
doesn't seem to strive to meet this standard or even the one the studio set for itself. It remains relatively mediocre throughout, never really pushing towards excellent. No piece of it really stands out or is especially memorable. It's funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny. And the narrative is adequate, though not very compelling. It is, however, as stunning as would be expected from the studio.
Grant is an indescribably charming actor on screen. However, as a voice actor, he loses something of his appeal. He just doesn't seem able to infuse the Pirate Captain with the charisma that makes him a winning leading man, which is surprising since he is portraying the same type of bumbling personality he usually plays. Salma Hayek’s and Jeremy Piven's characters are lively, though they make only brief appearances in the picture.
The story does have some fun with history by weaving in certain figures and images, including Darwin, Jane Austen, the Elephant Man and the Mona Lisa. It also references evolution through Bobo the Monkey-Man and his semblance to Darwin. On the other end of the timeline, it uses music from The Clash and Flight of the Conchords.
The ingredients were present for a good film; the recipe just needed a little more tweaking.
Directors: Peter Lord
and Jeff Newitt
Starring: Hugh Grant
, Salma Hayek
and Jeremy Piven