The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)
Not the best thing Aardman’s done, but, shucks, if it isn’t charming.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is about a pirate captain named Pirate Captain who leads a merry crew of scallywags across the seas of 1837. Now, 1837 is shaping up to be a big year for Pirate Captain, because this is the year that he’s planning on nabbing the Pirate of the Year award after a lifetime of getting snubbed. So with the competition stiff and the bar raised high, he sets sail, plunders away, and comes out empty-handed each time. That is until his travels lead him to one Charles Darwin who informs Pirate Captain that his prize parrot Polly is in fact the last living Dodo bird in existence. Seeing his chance for overnight fame and riches, Pirate Captain takes Polly to win the Scientist of the Year competition in London – home of Queen Victoria: #1 pirate-hater in all the land. But as Pirate Captain comes to find out, sometimes sure things just aren’t what they seem and there’s more to being a good pirate captain than just mountains and mountains of booty.
I really don’t use “booty” enough in these reviews. Thank you, Pirates! Band of Misfits.
So it’s not often that I have the pleasure of seeing two claymation movies over the course of one month, let alone one year. Not that I’m terribly bummed about the lack of claymation in the world today, but still, the medium’s done me right over the years and it’s nice to step back from all this CG malarkey once in a while. Anyhow, if you’d asked me back in January about which claymation sensation would come out on top – The Pirates! or ParaNorman – I wouldn’t have hesitated to bet the farm on the former. The trailer was hilarious, it’s the latest from Aardman Animations, what else did I need to know?
Kids, if something in life has even the remotest connection with Wallace & Gromit, you side with whatever that thing is. Write that one down.
But as you may have already heard, ParaNorman ended up knocking my bloomers off. The story, the art direction, the characters, the models, the voice actors, the animation, the score – all of it was just astounding. You get the idea, go see ParaNorman. And needless to say, I’m thanking my lucky stars you didn’t ask me anything back in January ’cause that farm of mine would be gettin’ repoed. Yes, it was a great movie, and, yes, Pirates! is ultimately the inferior of the two, but at the end of the day, the comparison’s apples and oranges.
The fact of the matter is that The Pirates! isn’t worse off because of how good ParaNorman is, at least for me it wasn’t. Rather, it just makes ParaNorman’s strengths just shine that much brighter. The issue at hand stems more from the knowledge of what Aardman is capable of producing and this not being of the same standard as, say, Chicken Run. I’ve always thought of Aardman as the Pixar of the claymation world, and that’s not just talking ’bout the visuals. These guys and gals know how to tell a story, tell it incredibly well, and play to an audience regardless of their ages. Not to say that this is better for kids than adults or vice versa, but the most glaring example of why this isn’t on par is the writing.
Now that I think about it, a lot of the complaints I have about Pirate Captain are a lot of the same traits that make Wallace so endearing. He’s good-natured, he’s flighty, and a lot of what he does is done without thinking. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have that same rapport with his right-hand man, The Pirate with a Scarf, that Wallace has with Gromit, but despite his more amusing qualities, Pirate Captain’s a pretty frustrating dude to watch. In a nutshell, the whole plot is led around by Pirate Captain as he continually ignores his companion’s better judgment so that he can keep making one hair-brained decision after another. The formula certainly serves its purpose, but it does get old and it’s a pretty cheap way to go from scene to scene. Far more aggravating than it should be, especially for this kind of movie.
However, there is an upside. All those crazy antics that Pirate Captain gets into? About half of them are legitimately funny! Who knew pirates had such a penchant for ham, and how often do you see PG movies taking jabs at The Elephant Man? When this thing hits its stride, it’s a straight-up blast. But alas, there’s still that other half to consider, which brings us to yet another downside of The Pirates! From start to finish, the laughs are very hit-and-miss. Whether it’s way too on-the-nose, plain old unfunny, or doesn’t know when to let a good thing die, with each new gag that landed, rest assured there was a dud waiting right around the corner to balance things out. It’s never laugh-out-loud funny to begin with, but no one wants to see a comedian bomb for half the time they’re on stage.
It’s not bad writing by any means, it’s just spotty. The story’s enjoyable for what it is and it’s really entertaining when the pirates are all together. Plus, it looks great. The animation is top-notch, it looks like an Aardman movie, and I still can’t get over Pirate Captain’s beard. Killer curls, man. Not to mention that it’s got a stellar cast of voice actors going for it. Ever since About a Boy, I’ve been a total sucker for Hugh Grant, and he brings a whole lot of personality and character to Pirate Captain. Also a bunch of folks from the Harry Potter movies here, which is neat.
Oh, and Al Roker’s in it. Not really sure what to make of that.
Alright, hopefully I haven’t been too overly-critical here, because as I read this all over again, I kind of feel like an ass for giving it such a thorough rundown. The Pirates! Band of Misfits may not be the best example of what the Aardman gang is capable of and it’s one of those rare movies that actually doesn’t live up to the promise of its trailer, but what matters is that it’s fun. I had a good time, and despite all my rambling, its faults are more than easy to overlook. Could have used some fine-tuning and there’s not much going on beneath the surface, but hey, it deserves the 7 it got.