movie film review | chris tookey

Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists!

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  Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
7.75 /10
Voices: Hugh Grant , David Tennant, Imelda Staunton
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Directed by: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Written by: Gideon Defoe, based on his own book

Released: 2012
Origin: UK
Colour: C
Length: 88

Hurray! A hit for all the family!
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Twenty-three years after they enriched our culture with those national treasures Wallace and Gromit, Aardman have come up with a certain spring hit. The Pirates! Is a welcome return to plasticine and stop-motion animation. It took five years to make, but was well worth the effort.

Directed by Peter Lord (who gave us Chicken Run), it starts with an irresistible idea. The world’s most ineffectual pirate captain, handily named Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), has designs on the Caribbean’s coveted Pirate of the Year Award, handed out annually by the Pirate King (Brian Blessed at his most bombastic).

But Pirate Captain, despite having a luxuriant beard about which he is pathetically vain, is nowhere near as impressive at looting, pillaging and all-round terrorising as his openly contemptuous rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).

The only award Pirate Captain has in his trophy cabinet is a rosette commemorating his achievement as runner-up for “best anecdote about a squid”.

Pirate Captain also has the most rubbish crew ever to pollute the high seas. These include his number two called, of course, Number Two (Martin Freeman), Pirate With Gout (Brendan Gleeson), Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) and an unnamed pirate who’s really just a fish wearing a hat.

Help is at hand, in the form of aspiring scientist Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who is not the revered figure he is today, but a nervous geek worried that he’ll never get a girlfriend.n Darwin reveals that the captain’s adored parrot Polly is, in fact, a dodo. If the crew will sail him to London and enable Darwin to present the bird to his fellow-scientists, he suggests they will have the riches that they have so long desired.

One snag is that it’s by no means certain Darwin is telling the truth. An even bigger snag is diminutive, pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton). She, weirdly, turns into the villain of the piece.
Aardman movies have a sense of humour quite unlike any others. Humour is notoriously subjective, of course, and I can imagine many people remaining straight-faced when Hugh Grant explains that Blood Island is “so named because it’s the exact shape of… some blood”.

They might, equally well, remain unsmiling at the sight of a wanted poster for a notorious pirate, offering the reward “12 doubloons and a free pen”.

But there you go. Pedants will doubtless point out that Queen Victoria wasn’t really obsessed with pirates, and that the ideas behind The Origin of the Species were not suggested to Darwin by a pirate captain with the voice of Hugh Grant. Oh, and the last dodo died around 1681.

I thought the first half of this film was outstandingly funny, and was well on the way to awarding it five stars. Then, unfortunately, the plot kicks in. It’s more silly than it is funny, and nowhere near as inspired as the jokes, which peter out in the final twenty minutes.

So the second half is not on a par with Aardman’s best work. I was also tempted to deduct another star because 3D adds nothing to the film, but I thought that would be unnecessarily grumpy.

The truth is that it’s a class above Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas. And, because of the dazzling wealth of background detail, it will probably bear seeing twice.

Gideon Defoe’s script is unsurprisingly faithful to his own books, and there’s plenty in this to entertain all ages. The U certificate suggests it is suitable for children of 4 upwards, and - wonder of wonders – it is.

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