The Pirates! Band of Misfits Review
They changed the name in its journey from Gideon Defoe’s book to screen. Well, they did in the United States, anyway. Known in the United Kingdom as The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, the more generic predicate Band of Misfits was, I’m guessing, invented to prevent science-phobic American audiences from scaring away at the sight of any word that would suggest smart people were involved in its production. And that’s fine. Trick them into seeing it if you have to. Let them panic over the inclusion of Charles Darwin (voiced by Doctor Who‘s David Tennant) as a pivotal character after they’ve bought their ticket.
Yeah, Charles Darwin. He’s after a dodo bird owned by the epically bearded Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant). Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) wants the animal, too. Darwin wants to study it, while Victoria wants an exotic meal. But to the Pirate Captain, his “parrot” is the emotional core of his ship, the mascot beloved by his entire crew. Only in a desperately weak-willed moment of bad judgment would he trade her for a giant pile of gold, which he does in order to clinch his long-denied win in the Pirate of the Year contest.
But plot, as funny and well-constructed as it is, isn’t really the point here. You’ll want to go because it’s from Aardman, the people who delivered Chicken Run, all the Wallace and Grommit films (both short and feature) and the underrated Arthur Christmas. They’re the (mostly) stop-motion animation peer of America’s Pixar or Japan’s Studio Ghibli. And like those, Aardman output is the kind of pitch-perfect fusion of smart and silly, funny and sweet, kid-centric and adult-friendly. You’re guaranteed originality, wit, impeccable artistry and attention to detail and, most of all, a plain old good time.
In fact, if there’s anything to gripe about here, it’s the pirate thing itself. Second only to the vampire glut, pirates have reached a level of pop culture exhaustion that’s hard to pretend isn’t happening and even harder to manufacture enthusiasm for. But for about 90 minutes these guys pull it off. Maybe it’s the lack of rote stumbling around by Johnny Depp, maybe it’s the enthusiastic charm, maybe it’s the fish in the pirate hat. But whatever it is, it’s welcome. Will there be a sequel based on one of Defoe’s follow-up books in the series? If so, please let it be The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists. Yes, that’s a real thing. And who better to teach your little ones about Karl Marx? Plus, there are kittens in it.
By Dave White