Come out of the cupboard
From the animation studio famous for Wallace & Gromit comes Peter Lord’s The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! or as it’s better know on our shores The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Either way it’s a lot of exclamation points for a movie that doesn’t deliver much at all in the way of excitement.
Hugh Grant voices The Pirate Captain, a hapless, um, pirate captain who can’t seem to do much of anything right. The only major things he has going for him is a loyal crew and a loving overweight pet parrot. When Captain enters his name into the conversation for the Pirate of the Year Award, an honor he’s lost out on year after year for the length of his career, all the other major pirate players on the scene, including Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) laugh him out of the building and halfway across the ocean.
His luck takes a turn for the better however when his crew attacks a research boat that features Charles Darwin as one of its passengers. Darwin quickly realizes that the crew’s beloved parrot Dolly is not in fact a parrot at all. It turns out that she’s a dodo, a breed of long extinct bird. Darwin promises Captain untold riches if he’s allowed to enter the bird into the Scientist of the Year competition. Captain agrees, but he wants to do the honors himself in disguise.
When he wins the competition (of course he wins, c’mon!) he comes face to face with the pirate-hating Queen of England who wants to claim the bird for her exotic petting zoo. In exchange for the bird she offers Captain more than enough booty to win the coveted Pirate of the Year Award. Will he sell out the ship’s mascot in order to finally take home top honors?
Having now viewed the film twice (once with my children when it first came out, and again more recently) I can now better appreciate its slow moving, steadily building humor. It takes its time getting to the final act, but boy oh boy when the shocking reveal finally hits, it sure is a welcome surprise. Queen Victoria is batshit crazy in a truly awesome way, and her final act of desperation makes sitting through all of the early bits worth the time.
Still, this a weird year for the animation category, one that finds no foreign language entries in the mix, and one that features five films that are all lackluster in one way or another. It’s anyone’s guess which one will take home the prize as all of them feel rather underdeveloped and undeserving of praise.
What Pirates! does do right also becomes part of what it does wrong. Most of its humor is skewed towards an older, wiser audience, which only serves to alienate the very age group it claims to want to entertain. I’m not usually in favor of dumbing things down, but in the case of this one, perhaps a little more bodily humor and a little less manpanzee would have gone a long way.
Could Pirates! win Best Animated Feature come Oscars night? Sure. Should it win? No, but neither should any of the other four.
Pirates! Band of Misfits
Directed by Peter Lord
Animated Feature Film (Peter Lord)
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