Apparently the word "scientists" is deemed box office kryptonite here in the states because The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
was renamed The Pirates! Band of Misfits
for American audiences. The movie is based on a children's book of the same name (the one with "scientists" in the title) but I never knew of its existence until I saw the credits. However faithful to the book the film may or may not be, the folks at Aardman have taken their chosen medium of clay, added some CGI and come up with a whole lot of fun.
The adventure is led by Pirate Captain as voiced by Hugh Grant and his (mostly) faithful crew featuring the likes of his number two who dons a scarf and the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate who wears pink and a gaudy orange and highly fake beard. Frustrated at never having been named Pirate of the Year, PC is determined to win the crown for 1837. We meet the competition at a tavern: Peg Leg Hastings, Black Bellamy, and the also curvaceous Cutlass Liz all make dramatic entrances and have no qualms with ostentatious displays of the booty they've plundered.
Hell bent on the title, PC and his crew set sail for the high seas. Early efforts to acquire treasure yield nothing as PC boards a ghost ship and one populated by lepers. Then he has the good fortune of running into the HMS Beagle
one of whose passengers is Charles Darwin. Assuming control of the ship PC and crew confront Darwin who recognizes the bird on PC's shoulder as not being a corpulent parrot but rather the last dodo alive. The natural philosopher convinces PC to take him to London and enter the bird into the Scientist of the Year competition. But Darwin wants the glory for himself and he devises a stratagem for acquiring the bird.
And hilarity ensues.
Aardman's claymation is sheer joy. I was amazed at the patience and craftsmanship that must have gone into the movie, especially when I was watching action sequences such as one where a bathtub full of pirates descends a stairwell in the Darwin home. The voice acting was wonderful too with Martin Freeman doing PC's number two, David Tennant as Darwin, and the inimitable Brian Blessed as the Pirate King. Bonus points for having POCs – pirates of color.
One thing that most children's movies have that was lacking here was a constant stream of pop culture references aimed at parents and The Pirates! Band of Misfits
is all the better for it. All of the big CGI fests for kids come across as having split personalities. There's the story that's for the kiddies and then there's this subtext for the adults. I can't recall any pop culture references in The Pirates!
although there probably were a few that I just cannot recall. However, I do remember Darwin's house having an anachronistic light switch which made me chuckle.
Generally speaking, the story moves along at a good pace with action sequences dotting the narrative. Things bog down occasionally as the filmmakers felt the need to overemphasize the Pirate Captain as a bumbling dimwit. I get it – he is not the most competent pirate on the high seas. Much better are the little jokes such as when the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate speaks in her own voice, catches the mistake, and quickly adopts a more gruff tone a la Life of Brian
This misstep aside, The Pirates! Band of Misfits
made me smile a lot and took me away from my life of having to deal with surly teenagers. Mission accomplished.