Here is a return to the charming stop-motion visuals (albeit CGI-assisted) for which Aardman Animations is known and loved, and the long development process has produced a thoroughly enjoyable, if occasionally uneven, adventure.
It’s an adaptation of the first book in Gideon Defoe’s ongoing pirate-based series, and was adapted for the screen by him. Peter Lord, meanwhile, who helmed the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were Rabbit, as well as Aardman’s first feature film, Chicken Run, is in the director’s chair for this tale of hapless pirating and high-seas adventure.
Hugh Grant gives a wonderful vocal performance as The Pirate Captain, who leads his band of misfit pirates to all manner of underwhelming feats on the high seas. He’s the kind of pirate who, in his unsuccessful quest for booty, tends to find himself boarding plague ships and swinging his cutlass in the face of children’s biology field trips.
He’s desperate to win the Pirate of the Year competition, which he’s routinely failed to pocket in 20 previous attempts. After a montage of failures, he’s about to give up, until he chances upon an expeditionary vessel captained by Charles Darwin himself (David Tennant), who immediately recognises that The Pirate Captain’s parrot is, in fact, a dodo, and thereby could stand a chance of winning first prize at the Royal Society in London. But Darwin has his own plans for the bird, and Queen Victoria is decidedly not a fan of pirates.
The tone is set early on, with a peppering of sight-gags, witticisms and slapstick buffoonery that is a joy to watch. One scene, which introduces us to the three pirate captains who will be our protagonist’s rivals in the competition, is deliriously funny, and sums up how good this film can be, although sadly all three of these characters are absent from this point on. The majority of the film can’t quite live up to this barnstorming first half hour, but it remains a delight throughout, even when the gags become a little more hit and miss.
The storyline, in second half especially, begins to feel tangential, and the less pirating there is, the less interesting it becomes, though that’s not to say it isn’t still drenched in Aardman charm. The Pirate Captain and his crew are poor pirates who get by on sheer likability, and the narrative drifts to and fro at times with that same inept charm, but never to significant detriment. I saw the film in 2D, and so cannot comment on how it looks with the added di mension, but I hope the vivid colours and luxuriant lighting haven’t suffered too much. Not perfect, then, but a jolly good high seas adventure and a barrel of laughs, nonetheless.