By Justin Zarian
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
I recently heard a review calling Aardman Studios, the masterminds behind “Wallace & Gromit,” “Chicken Run” and the overlooked gem “Arthur Christmas,” the British Pixar. I pretty much agree. Even with their weakest entries, the level of creativity, wit and stellar production design never fails to impress. The trend continues here with their newest entry “The Pirates: Band of Misfits.” Despite some uneven elements, the high quality of clever humor, claymation design and entertainment more than makes up for them.
The film follows a pirate captain simply named Pirate Captain (No one said pirates were creative), a charming but incompetent swashbuckler whose greatest achievement is a runner-up ribbon for telling stories about squids. As the Pirate of the Year competition rounds the corner, he enlists his ragtag crew for one more attempt to find the most boast worthy quest in the world. It is a simple story supported by an ensemble of terrific characters and a constantly evolving plot that moves from one wacky scenario after another. Even when we see familiar story elements from other films, the established tone here manages to keep them fresh and entertaining.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is the sheer amount of energy felt throughout. Director Peter Lord and crew have put so much attention to detail in this film that it can hardly be contained. The sets and character models are expressive and beautifully designed, with each character adding to the film’s distinct personality. The humor flies almost non-stop, amplified by numerous foreground and background gags peppered in for good measure. The voice acting across the board is top-notch, including a terrific and unrecognizable Hugh Grant as the plucky captain. Everyone involved is invested in making the film work and that dedication and energy makes for an entertaining rid through various set pieces.
Having said all of this, a few elements do not work as well. One of them is the later addition of Charles Darwin as a main cast member. Though David Tennant does a great job voicing him, it never felt very natural for Darwin to be involved after a certain point. Also, while the wild variety in humor often works, there are smatterings of out of left field jokes that are just too weird to be funny (How many people will laugh at references to The Elephant Man?). The third act also treads familiar territory with the typical “daring rescue” scenario, but our investment in the wacky story and characters help it from feeling tired. None of these hurt the film too much; they were just enough to be noticeable.
Perhaps it is not Aardman’s best work, but the sheer amount of quality is hard to ignore. Kids can enjoy the light-hearted and breezy story and adults will appreciate the surprising level of wit and quality. It is proof that Aardman is still on course with its quest to make quality animated films.