Tuesday, 10 April 2012
'The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists' review:
Innocent and family-friendly without ever being too cutesy, 'The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists' is Aarman's latest stop-frame animated feature film, loaded with the usual inspired sight gags, quickfire puns and unalloyed charm. Here, in a loose adaptation of a book series of the same name, we follow The Pirate Captain (as voiced by Hugh Grant) - a rubbish but well-meaning scourge of the high seas whose single greatest wish is to win the coveted Pirate of the Year prize.
However he has been thwarted in this quest for the last two decades by a combination of his own ineptitude and the fact that his rivals are supremely impressive shownman - as voiced by Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven and Lenny Henry. It is a pity we don't see them beyond two brief fleeting appearances, as each quickly establishes an entertaining character, but I'm sure they'll be back; This whimsically entertaining yarn, though it provokes broad smiles rather than hearty belly-laughs, has the makings of a successful franchise.
In his quest to usurp his more decorated colleagues in the running for this year's prize, the open-hearted and guileless Pirate Captain stumbles into Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who correctly identifies the pirates' "parrot" Polly as the last remaining dodo. Darwin promises the discovery will make Captain rich beyond his wildest dreams - making him a sure winner of the coveted accolade. But the lovelorn scientist has his own agenda (and a trained chimp for a henchman) and leads the band of misfits through chases and various mishaps over the city of London, bringing the plunderers into confrontation with the pirate communities arch-nemesis, Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton). Cue the big action finale, which takes place on board a magnificently realised Victorian warship.
Some of the humour is winsomely subversive - with the scientists of London inventing an airship simply so they can look down women's tops, and with Hayek's Cutlass Liz oozing a peculiar Plasticine sex appeal. At one point, whilst Martin Freeman's first mate is trying to restore his wounded pride, Pirate Captain reminisces about the simple joys of running people through with a sword. It's not explicit but it isn't strictly sanitised either. Yet even so it is somehow entirely gentle and lacking in cynicism - with these being less "jokes for the adults" than a key component of Aarman's long established anarchic, Pythonesque sensibility.
Imaginative, with plenty of quality gags and a heart of gold that won't tickle your gag reflex, 'The Pirates!' is good fun, rife with the sort of subtle parochial details that defined 'Wallace & Gromit' and 'Creature Comforts' (Blue Peter badges, custard creams and the homely charms of "ham night"). It's not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as the studio's recent computer generated 'Arthur Christmas', but it is certainly more refined and will probably better stand the test of time. That it remains quaint and understated in stereoscope is an achievement in itself.
'The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists' is out now in the UK, rated 'U' by the BBFC.