Susan Granger's review of 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits'
Best known for its silly, cheeky "Wallace & Gromit" shorts, along with "Chicken Run," "Flushed Away" and "Arthur Christmas," Britain's Aardman Animation blends its stop-motion plasticine Claymation technique with CG special effects in this family-friendly 3D frolic on the high seas.
For 20 years, bumbling Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) has wanted to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award when his colleagues of sea-faring rogues convene on Blood Island, but he doesn't stand much of chance compared with the plundering booty of his dastardly rivals - like Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek). But Pirate Captain's fortunes change in 1836, when he and his underachieving shipmates encounter The Beagle, a research ship carrying a young scientist named Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who identifies his beloved parrot Polly as the last surviving dodo, representative of a species thought to be long-extinct.
If Darwin can present portly Polly as a specimen to the Royal Society in London, it would be not only be considered a most commendable achievement but also great riches will follow. The complication is: sailing to London, where Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) bars pirates from entering the Thames. So the buccaneers must travel in disguise and expect many manic chases.
Adapted by book author Gideon Defoe and co-directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt, it's distinguished by its vocal cast (including Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson, Ashley Jensen, Russell Tovey and Brian Blessed in a cameo as the Pirate King) and clever production design, like the coveted Pirate of the Year trophy - a golden skull with a large garnet stuffed into one eye socket and a cutlass through it - and Mr. Bobo, Darwin's `man-panzee.' Admittedly, however, some of the humor -such as the Elephant Man and Jane Austen references - passes far over the heads of the intended audience of youngsters.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is a swashbuckling 7, subtly referencing evolutionary science with an insidious spoonful-of-sugar.