Film Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists!
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With more swashbuckling clichés than you could shake a cutlass at and enough plasticine in sight to rival James May's 2009 Chelsea Flower Show garden, The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! is the latest offering from Aardman, whose last stop-motion feature, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, charmed audiences way back in 2005. The Pirates! will delight children and charm adults in the witty, slick and entertaining style that no one can do quite like Aardman
Following the misadventures of the hapless Pirate Captain (brilliantly voiced by Hugh Grant) as he sets out to win the Pirate of the Year Award, the film assembles an impressive cast including Martin Freeman, Brian Blessed and David Tennant as Charles Darwin, who is captured by the Pirate Captain.
But as Darwin is made to walk the plank, he notices that the Captain's 'parrot' is, in fact, the last remaining dodo and persuades him to accompany him to London to present the dodo to the Royal Society and make both their fortunes. Historically accurate, this film is not, but what ensues is nothing short of mad brilliance.
As an animation studio, Aardman has always been, in many ways, the polar opposite of its American cousins, Disney and Pixar. The success of Aardman films lies in the attention to detail; the obvious love and charm which goes into every single frame. Yes, Pixar know a thing or two about computers, but Aardman certainly know how bring a lump of plasticine to life. The film's dynamic narrative allows the characters' crazy antics to shine and become genuinely funny without ever forcing any humour.
The jokes in The Pirates! come thick and fast and have the breadth to work on a wide audience: children will love the slapstick comedy and Darwin's monkey manservant (who wouldn't want one?!), whilst the witty humour will keep the adults happy. This quick humour pervades the film to such a great extent that you might find yourself concentrating on the background sets rather than what the characters are saying. As with so many Aardman films, it is impossible to catch every joke on the first viewing, whether its the motto under the Royal Society's sign – “Playing God since 1660” – or the local dentist, “D. K. Ying Dentistry”. These subtle puns are inventive and, in many ways, make the film.
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Of course, the plot is as wacky as Jamie Oliver's choice of baby names, but this is no bad thing. Where else would you have a chase sequence involving a bathtub full of pirates hurtling down a flight of stairs in Victorian London, chasing a disguised monkey clutching a dodo?! If it were anyone else, the sequence would be laughably awful. But, as it's Aardman, it's laughably funny and humour infuses the whole film. The characters are well designed, as are the sets which fuse CGI with traditional stop-motion to great effect and the vocal talent from some of Britain's finest actors creates a world which is a pleasure to be immersed in for 90 minutes.
The success of The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! lies in its charm and Aardman pedigree. Exciting action, coupled with clever humour and delightful characters all leads to a film which shouldn't just be enjoyed by those who play with plasticine in school. The Pirates! deserves to be seen – and enjoyed – by everyone.