The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

Time to walk the plank - ★★

Wallace and Gromit take to the high seas in this average adventure with scheming scientists.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is the latest instalment from the pleasant people at Aardman Animations. Yes I know Wallace and Gromit aren’t in it, but Hugh Grant voices “Pirate Captain” who is pretty much Wallace, a bumbling idiot with a heart of gold – only the captain wears pantaloons and has an impressive beard. The role of Gromit falls to Martin Freeman, or “Pirate with Scarf” who always has his master’s best interests at heart like any faithful dog.

The Pirate Captain is as vain as they come and has his heart set on being the next Pirate King, the role that has eluded him for the past twenty years. Once he realises that Polly the ship’s faithful parrot is in fact a Dodo long thought to be extinct he realises he may have the crown in the bag. The intrepid Charles Darwin points out this little fact and tries his damnedest to steal the bird taking the glory for himself. Lots of hijinks ensue, swashbuckling and so forth, you know the typical pirate stuff that has been in every pirate film ever.

To say that Aardman have missed the boat (pun most definitely intended) on pirates is a bit of an understatement. Pirates of the Caribbean came out nearly 10 years ago and many felt the genre tired and limp even then. So simply transporting them into clay unsurprisingly hasn’t put any new wind in their sails. Most of the humour comes in tiny “blink and you’ll miss it” background jokes, while you have to stomach the bloated set pieces which are technically wonderful to behold once you know what goes into claymation, but if they don’t make you laugh who cares. Now this is a children’s film I know and not being accompanied by a child to my screening (such relationships are frowned upon these days), I can’t really say what they would make of proceedings. There is enough colour and distraction to keep one’s mind occupied, but none of the humour we’ve come to expect from Aardman. I’m not being all pretentious or am saying that there wasn’t enough intellectual humour, far from it, what the film really lacked was the physical comedy genius that we know so well from Wallace and Gromit.

The film is based on a book so maybe they became too constrained by its format not allowing themselves the scope to try their own ideas, but it would have been interesting if they had devised their own and seen where it took them. The film title has been changed to The Pirates! Band of Misfits for American audiences, this is obviously down to not wanting to offend the Christian fundamentalists who abhor the notion of Darwin and his theory of evolution which plays a big role in the film.

All the voice-acting is done well, with Brendan Gleeson probably being the stand out as “Pirate with Gout” while Ashley Jensen as “Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate” gets more laughs than most. There are cameo voices by the barrel full, Jeremey Piven, Salma Hayeck, Brian Blessed and Lenny Henry (!?) amounting to a spot the voice competition – which I got full marks on by the way.

I think it’s time pirates had to walk the plank and be left alone on a desert island for a decade or two giving us some time to get our peg legs and scurvy riddled teeth in order.

Aye Jim lad.

U.K.  /  Directed By: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt  /  Written By: Hamish McColl  /  Starring: Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Salma Hayek, Brian Blessed, Jeremy Piven, Lenny Henry, Ashley Jensen, Martin Freeman  /  88min  /  Animation, Adventure  /  Release: 28 March 2012 (Irl/UK), 27 April 2012 (US/Canada)