May. 02, 2012 - Issue #863: Cold Specks
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Telling a tale of piratical vainglory adapted by Gideon Defoe from his book series, Aardman's stop-motion claymation adds comic flourish to the farce: a dodo waddles along a table; the curls of a "luxuriant" beard furl and scroll. It's 1837 and the Pirate Captain (voiced with dry panache by Hugh Grant) is determined to win Pirate of the Year. When he and his crew, including stalwart No 2 (Martin Freeman, expert as the sidekick from The Office and Sherlock), board the Beagle, its not-yet-famous passenger, Charles Darwin, identifies "Polly" as no parrot but the very last dodo, still flightless after 150 years of presumed extinction. Now the Pirate Captain thinks scientific success—though Polly must be presented in London, home of pirate-hating Queen Victoria—could lead him to the trophy he wants most. But will he betray his seafaring family of misfits for personal reward?
The Pirates! doesn't plunge us quite as humour-deep into eccentric dottiness as the W&G films. But the dark corners of wood ships and wooden buildings ground the zaniness in enough Victorian atmosphere that more modern jokes sail smoothly along (even our idolatry of science is mocked—"The Royal Society: Playing God Since 1660"). And beyond more historical irreverence, a runaway-bathtub chase scene, a flash-card-communicating monkey-manservant, map-happy visual gags and a parody of the Titanic's sinking, there's a doubloon-worth of cutlass-sharp points about who the true pirates are. Nineteenth-century pseudo-science is shown to be full of repressed, myopic "gentlemen" grasping for glory. But ahoy! Queen Victoria is the most rapacious plunderer of all, her ships of state, the British Navy, having brought back big booty from all corners of her Empire.
Directed by: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
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