Movie Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!

In Love Actually, Hugh Grant plays the Prime Minister, and after the sleazy US President (Billy Bob Thornton) makes a move at the object of the PM’s affection, a charming, curvy Martine McCutcheon, the PM ruins the special relationship and gives a list of things that the UK should be proud of:

“Shakespeare, Churchill, The Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham’s right foot, David Beckham’s left foot, come to that.”

Ah, Martine McCutcheon.

What he could have added to the list was Aardman Animation. The Bristol based company have an extremely impressive track record- there’s the fantastically nuanced and charming Creature Comforts, the marvellous Flushed Away and, of course, Wallace & Gromit, one of the finest comic creations of all time. So, expectations were high before I saw their latest release.

The film follows a charming, but rather useless pirate captain called Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), who heads up a crew of equally useless pirates. He’s tried several times to win the illustrious Pirate of the Year award, yet these all end in humiliating defeat. However, determined to show the suaver, more successful Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) that he is a good pirate he redoubles his efforts to amass some booty for the prize.

For various reasons all the ships he attacks turn out to be devoid of treasure, before he attacks the Beagle, ship of scientist Charles Darwin (David Tennant), on his way back to Britain. Before walking the plank, Darwin realises that Pirate Captain’s parrot, Polly, is not in fact a parrot, but the last surviving dodo, a massive scientific coup which will surely win him Scientist of the Year.

Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) and Polly

Pirate Captain decides to go to London, win the science prize of “untold riches” and use these to win the pirate prize. However, this involves coming in to contact with Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who loathes pirates. Darwin turns out to want Polly for himself as he wishes to impress Victoria, who he has a crush on, and enlists his monkey butler, Mr Bobo to steal the bird. This fails, and Pirate Captain wins the prize, only for his piratannical nature to be revealed.

He is pardoned and becomes the toast of the town, but will he exchange Polly, the ship’s beloved mascot for the riches he needs to be Pirate of the Year? And why exactly does Queen Victoria want the bird so much?

This film is superb.

Aardman have a visual look all of their own, and there’s something about it that’s instantly lovable and warm. I don’t know why but the clay figures just seem to take on a sense of character that you sometimes lack with drawn animation and CG work.

But as ever with Aardman its the inventiveness that gets you, and the film is loaded with gags. The dialogue is peppered with daft little jokes that get you tittering and there are several running jokes that are never overplayed and remain hilarious throughout. There’s the way the ship’s progress is followed on maps where they interact with the drawings on the map and the folds in the pages, or Mr Bobo’s habit of communicating through the use of little cards, which gave me one of the biggest laughs of the film.

Also, the scene where Pirate Captain meets Jane Austen is fantastic.

I laughed loudly several times throughout the film and spent the rest of the time smilling and chuckling. Its a beautifully joyous film, you sense the makers had a real sense of enjoyment they wanted to come through and it really does, they commit to every little visual gag or funny line with admirable vigour and its a real feel-good film that leaves you with a big, silly grin on your face.

The characters are magnificent, Grant is hilarious as the inept but amiable Pirate Captain, his enthusiasm and lack of awareness of his failings make him thorughly likable as he leads his shabby crew into action.

The crew are also delightful, there’s the faithful second in command, Pirate With Scarf (Martin Freeman) always pumping up and supporting his captain. Also serving on the ship are the dimwitted Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey), the enthusiastic Pirate With Gout (Brendan Gleeson) and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen), a woman masquerading as a pirate which provides the film with some of its daftest laughs.

The other characters are all very good as well, David Tennant plays Darwin as a whiny, insecure nerd and there are many jokes as the Pirate Captain gives him nudges towards the theory of evolution. The character stays just the right side of irritating, and the interplay between the nervous scientist and the more action-orientated Pirate Captain is quite sweet.

As the film’s secondary villain, Jeremy Piven is clearly having a ball playing Black Bellamy, a smarmy rogue who’s all cockiness and swagger. It feels right that the villain should be a brash, cool-obsessed loudmouth when the film is such a gleeful, goofy affair.

But Pirate Captain’s real rival in the most memorable character is Queen Victoria, I’ve never seen the monarch portrayed like this. Loud, angry and passionate its a world away from the repressed Empress we usually see, and it really works. Its also funny how she attempts to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants, batting her eyelashes at Pirate Captain and using Darwin’s affection for her. She’s a conniving, hissable villain in the old-school mould.

As I said before, the design in the film is fantastic, with visual jokes coming through and the characters looking full of life and truly animated. I even found myself getting a little bit of a crush on one character, one of the successful pirates, Cutlass Liz, although this may be because she was voiced by Salma Hayek.

Trust me, she's sexier when she moves and talks like Salma Hayek

Its a fabulous movie, warm, charming and funny. Also, its a film for all the family. There are a few little gags that may go over the heads of small children, but everyone in the showing I went to seemed to love it. An instant classic.

Also, it features a performance from the legendary Brian Blessed, what more do you need?

Brian Blessed voices the Pirate King, show here with the rather cool Pirate of the Year trophy

Verdict: A fantastically entertaining family movie, with real warmth and wit throughout. Another charming success from Aardman. Go see it now! 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. TTFN

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