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The Pirates! Band of Misfits: A real treasure of a comedy

A scene from the film "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"

CP/Sony Pictures

3 out of 4 stars


Chapter I: The Funny Buccaneer

Having been asked to write particulars about stop-motion/CG-animated, 3-D film The Pirates! Band of Misfits, keeping nothing back but for spoilers, and only because it's chockablock with comedy treasure, I go back to a time (2003) when Gideon Defoe took up his pen, on a lark, to write The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.

"This is the berth for me," said Defoe, then a recent Oxford anthropology grad working in a London grog shop. And, indeed, he has now logged four more Pirates! novels.

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The stories tickled Aardman animation studio co-founder Peter Lord, convincing him to helm a feature for the first time since Chicken Run (2000). Irreverently silly stories they are, about a pirate captain named Pirate Captain – a damp squib but unsinkably blithe and popular (to his crew).

Rather than trim his novel, the custom for adaptations, Defoe expanded the Scientists story with bits from his other books and new characters. He also freshened the comedy with a running vinegar-and-baking-soda gag and better anachronisms. Methinks he watched a lot of Monty Python as a younker.

Chapter II: Sea Dogs at the "Barnacle's Face"

A tall man with a luxuriant beard, love of ham and gift for errors in judgment, Pirate Captain sounds like Hugh Grant talking lower. It's jolly good. The rum crew may disagree about looting and cutlasses but they are loyal to a man – or woman, in the case of Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen), whose fake beard fools no one but the crew. Pirate With a Scarf, the lone voice of reason (Martin Freeman), advises Captain against his ridiculous schemes to no avail. At the Barnacle's Face tavern, more plunder-full pirates like Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) humiliate Captain when he enters the Pirate of the Year contest. More doubloons are needed.

Chapter II: The Treasure Hunt

With the CG-rendered high seas rolling behind Captain's ship – one of many gloriously detailed sets worth pausing to examine if you capture the DVD – the crew sallies forth. After a montage of booty-less boats, they board the vessel of Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who saves himself from the plank by pointing out the crew's beloved Polly (newly hatched for the film) is not a parrot but a dodo. Thought to be extinct, the bird could win Darwin the Scientific Discovery Prize in London. But the trophy-hungry Captain has other ideas.

Chapter III: Madcap Shore Adventure

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Things get destroyed when Darwin and his "man-panzee" butler, Bobo, attempt to kidnap Polly in a signature Aardman slapstick sequence. Things get surreal when Captain, poorly disguised as a scientist, amazes the crowd of real scientists with a bizarre show. One excited chap says the dodo discovery "makes electricity look like a pile of crap." But the spoils of his victory are not what Captain had in mind.

Chapter IV: The Attack of the Killer Queen

Defoe's other new character is a young, stout but nimble Queen Victoria, one of the most terrifying villainesses in animation history –which is saying a lot. The voice performance of Imelda Staunton oozes with wicked energy. The pirate-hating monarch enacts an elaborate and distasteful plan, which sets the pirates' adventure on a different course – the outrageous twists, hilarious sitcom-paced patter and fantastic action I leave you to discover for yourself.

Chapter V: Not Quite the Last

Of Pirate Captain we may hear more; he is wanted for a sequel. It may only happen if the film's thoroughly British style of absurd humour connects with North American audiences. Designed to please all generations of irreverent humour-lovers, The Pirates! Band of Misfits may not be heart-warming (it is about nasty, scurvy pirates!) but it's breezy rollicking fun.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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The Pirates! Band of Misfits

  • Helmed by Peter Lord
  • Logbook by Gideon Defoe
  • Voice crew: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Jeremy Piven, Brian Blessed, Lenny Henry and Salma Hayek
  • Classification: PG
  • 3 stars

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