THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS
THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is based on The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists (2004) by Gideon Defoe. Defoe has written four other books in The Pirates! series, which take his pirate crew known only as The Pirate Captain, The Pirate With a Scarf, The Pirate with Gout and so on, up against other 19th Century historical and fictional characters, including Karl Marx, Napoleon Bonaparte and Captain Ahab of Moby Dick (1856) fame. Gideon Defoe also writes the screenplay for the film.
For many years the 1970s through the 1990s the pirate film was synonymous with a box-office disaster. This changed with the massive success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and sequels. Between the Pirates of the Caribbean films and The Pirates! here, the pirate has gone from the historical figure of a brigand, black-hearted murderer and frequent rapist to something cute and cuddly. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, in being aimed principally at a childrens audience, does this even more so than the Pirates of the Caribbean films. One of the more amusing aspects of the film is seeing some of the interpolations that Gideon Defoe and the Aardman people do with traditional imagery of the pirate. The idea of an inept crew of pirates trying to compete in the Pirate of the Year awards holds some amusement to it. Particularly appealing are the scenes of the pirates trying to disguise themselves as scientists. Some of the film does head towards the direction of slapstick hijinks notably a sequence with the pirate crew careening through Charles Darwins house and out into the streets in a bathtub, or the climactic scenes fighting around the kitchen with a maddened Queen Victoria but these are conducted with great gusto.
One of the more amusing aspects of the film is its winding in of real historical figures, even if the portraits would surely make any historian do a double-take. You suspect for a time that maybe the film has a closeted fundamentalist agenda in seeking to portray Charles Darwin as a villain (although he does get a redemption at the end), while the films portrait of Queen Victoria as an autocratic tyrant, arranging banquets of rare and endangered animals and going into action waving a sword is something that could well be considered libellous by members of the Windsor family. There are some cute cameos packed away, including the sight of Jane Austen and John Merrick, alias The Elephant Man, going on a date at one point (even if in reality, the Merrick was not born until fifty years after Austens death). The plot wheels around with entertaining absurdity and the background of the film is packed with an enormous number of sly throwaway gags. The film never quite hits the deliriously madcap heights of some of Aardmans Claymation works but will do perfectly well for the moment and makes welcome distraction from the blandness of other animated product out there.
The characters come with the quirky wit that is distinctive of Aardmans films. All of the respective name actors seem to have a ball with their parts and come across with considerable appeal, even if the supporting parts of the scurvy crew never get much screen time. The animation is of suitable quality but this is a problem that I had with The Pirates! namely that because Aardman have taken to conducting their films in hand-drawn animation, the distinctive characteristics of their stop-motion animation disappear so that The Pirates! looks like just another animated film. In fact, until the end credits came up, I assumed because of the Sony Pictures Animation name on the opening credits that Aardman were simply using standard computer animation as in Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas rather than that they had blended both hand-drawn and stop-motion animation.