Aardman is the brains behind the stop motion projects of Wallace and Grommitt and Chicken Run, and have even ventured into the world of CG animation with Flushed Away. After toying with the idea of making their latest venture, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, in CG, they decided it was a story best told in the classic medium of stop-motion animation. While "claymation" - stop motion animation using characters made out clay - is more or less a thing of the past, Aardman utilized resin figures with various movable pieces (like hundreds of different interchangeable mouths for some characters), and some CG landscapes to bring The Pirates! to life on screen.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is derived from a series of books by author Gideon Defoe, which didn't have any original illustrations in them, leaving the Aardman team to dream up the Pirates world almost entirely from scratch. Building elaborate miniature sets and figurines with wire skeletons, The Pirates were created in familiar settings with that unique Aardman style applied to them. The story itself revolves around a band of pirates lead by The Pirate Captain who, incidentally, isn't a very good pirate. His parrot is fat, his crew unorthodox, and his plundering abilities instinctively off. However, he and his crew believe they're all exceptional pirates and that The Pirate Captain is a shoe-in for The Pirate of The Year award. But when he realizes his competition is a bit stiff, he sets out on a voyage to plunder enough treasure to win the coveted trophy.
On his quest, Captain encounters science explorer Charles Darwin. Interestingly enough, Darwin isn't just a fleeting character for the film. He soon encourages Captain to enter a science contest back in London for "untold riches" and he joins the pirates' quest. What's kind of even more intriguing is the Aardman team doesn't take Darwin all too seriously. Most people know he's credited for the theory of evolution and so some references are made to this, but it isn't something that's focused on. In a way, Darwin fills the role of a villain of sorts for a good part of the story, but he does kind of redeem himself near the end (but that doesn't stop the filmmakers from making a fool out of him on more than one occasion). Basically, everything in Pirates! is 'all in good fun,' so it's difficult to get too upset over the inclusion of the theorist of evolution in a film largely aimed at kids.
But it's the content of The Pirates! Band of Misfits that will be a bit of a red flag for some parents. There are only about two iffy words, including one use of "arse" and one of "cr*p." There's a little bit of suggestive innuendo, but it's mostly stuff that would go over kids heads (they call a female pirate a "trollop" in one scene, but that's not a word kids will likely know). Pirate Captain also finds himself on a ship full of "Naturists" and we see the nude crewmembers with various foreground objects blocking any nudity. It's, at least, a fleeting scene. Otherwise, violence is the main concern of Pirates!, with everything from small brawls and characters hitting each other to pirates with peglegs and hooks for limbs to a female pirate that stabs and kills two pirates in two different scenes in the film. Overall, it's a bit edgy at times for a kids' film, so it can be expected that this movie is more geared toward older children.
But as an end product, The Pirates! Band of Misfits probably won't be remembered as one of the best animated films of the year, but there's enough charm, fascinating visuals (that make you wonder how in the world they accomplished that stop-motion shot), and silly gags to keep the movie entertaining from start to finish. All of the voice acting is top-notch too, with an impressive cast that includes Hugh Grant, Marin Freeman, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin and many others. In an age where film companies are more likely to enlist the help of some popular pop singer than a seasoned actor to provide a voice, it's refreshing to see just so much talent used here. And to just kind of give you an idea of the sort of offbeat humor the movie utilizes, there is a stereotypical "break-up" scene that leaves the hero by himself and, to wink at the audience during this moment, the song "I'm Not Crying" by Flight of the Conchords is effectively used.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits may not be the best animated film of 2012, or even the best comedy, but there are plenty of things to like about it. It's probably more on the edgier side than some will expect (and just the presence of Charles Darwin will turn off some viewers), with the humor being of British origin, but fans of this kind of comedy should appreciate it more so. Aardman has also had stronger movies previously, but The Pirates! Band of Misfits is still a decent and fun animated adventure.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/25/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is available through Sony in just about any medium: a 3D Blu-Ray / 2D Blu-Ray / DVD pack, a DVD and Blu-Ray pack and a regular DVD release, as well as through the usual on-demand digital retailers. The regular Blu-Ray combo pack includes a DVD and Ultraviolet streaming copy, as well as the following extras:
"So You Want To Be A Pirate!" Short Film (18:07) - This is an almost-TV-episode-long animated short that features all of the main Pirates! characters as part of a pseudo-talk show. It's pretty silly but a wonderfully fun addition to this set. It's one of the better "mini movies" included with the video release. (As far as content goes, it's about as comedically violent as the rest of the movie, but nothing too bad otherwise)
Pirate Disguise Dress-Up Game - This is a timed outfit-matching game you play with the buttons on your Blu-Ray remote control. It's not all that fun, but kids may enjoy it.
From Stop To Motion (20:52) - This is a tremendous behind-the-scenes featurette that covers just about everything that has to do with the production of The Pirates!, from story to sound. Here, they talk about how the film was derived from books written by Gideon Defoe, and then they show how it was conceived from there. They'd decided to make it stop motion instead of CG after seeing example sets being designed. After that, we see the models, sets, characters, and examples of how the animation was achieved. We also see some of the main voice cast (really only Hugh Grant and Martin Freeman) and then are shown just a glimpse at sound and music recording. It's a wonderful featurette. (1 "h*ll")
Creating The Bath Chase Sequence (8:22) - From the storyboards to the final film, we see how the "Bath Chase Sequence" was planned and executed. It's fascinating to see all the tricks they implemented to accomplish the complicated shot, and it's a great insight into the process of stop motion animation.
Peter Lord Short Films is a pair of homemade stop-motion claymation videos this director, Peter Lord, made some years ago. Both have optional commentary from Lord as well. "Wat's Pig" (11:25), the first one, was made in 1996 and is the tale of a pair of twins who were separated at birth-- one in royalty, the other in poverty. "War Story" (5:27) was apparently even older, but is uniquely based on a true story using real audio from a story relayed from a man's own experiences. It wasn't scripted at all, with the audio of the narrator being real. It's a quirky but an interesting story visually. Both have nothing at all to do with the feature film, The Pirates!, but those interested in this kind of animation may really enjoy them.
A feature-length commentary with Director Peter Lord, Co-Director Jeff Newitt and Editor Justin Krish rounds out the extras on the blu-ray disc.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/25/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: When listing things that are not the best things about being a pirate, The Pirate Captain adds "it's not the scantily clad mermaids;" During the opening credits, we see a map with small illustrations of cartoony topless mermaids depicted on it. We see them from the back, but as they're sucked into a whirlpool, we see the side of one of the topless ones, while the hair of the other blocks frontal topless nudity; A pirate calls Cutlass Liz a "trollop;" Pirate Captain lands on various boats in an attempt to plunder them, and one features an all-nude crew, with various objects blocking their explicit areas (all shown very very briefly). One of the men says "Naturists." and he's holding a grilled sausage with a grill covered with more sizzling sausages located right at his crotch; Darwin gives a flirty look to one of the male pirates dressed as a girl scout; Pirate Captain falls through the floor into a bathtub where The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (who's really a woman with a fake beard) is bathing. We briefly see her bare back, with any other nudity covered up by bubbles; A man refers to his airship invention as a "lady magnet;" One of the Pirate of the Year Awards judges is a mermaid with just shells over her bare chest; Captain suggests that they go to an island where the native ladies have outfits that don't leave much to the imagination.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "arse," 1 "cr*p"; The monkey butler displays cards for the words "Are you out of your '@#%?!!!' mind?!"
Alcohol/Drugs: The pirates are frequently seen with mugs of grog; As they travel the map, we see them stop at a pub called Duty Free and plunder it; There's some wine at a celebration; Captain and other people share drinks in a tavern; Captain appears drunk after partying at the tavern.
Blood/Gore: Some pirates have peglegs, eye patches, and hooks for hands; We see a big bean on the end of Pirate Captain's sword which he's told is a baboon's kidney. He then picks up another one; Captain then swings his sword around Darwin's cabin, throwing a brain across the room onto a wall and cutting off a stuffed monkey's head, which lands on a painting; We briefly see a brain floating in a jar; There's a little bit of splattered dried blood on a large ax.
Violence: Queen Victoria slams a knife into her table top, which transitions into the hand of a pirate who has done the same thing elsewhere on a pirate ship; A brawl breaks out amongst the pirates where some of them are seen beating each other with various objects, including a lobster, spyglass, fish, etc. We also see glass thrown and shattering, etc; The opening credits show the logo with several cannon balls blasting through it; We see an illustration of the pirate ship being chased by flying arrows. We then see Captain with a few arrows sticking out of his back/butt; The pirate ship crashes into a little boat and the the walking plank hits a man in the head as it drops; Peg-Leg Hastings crashes through a tavern window, knocking many folks out of the way in the process; Cutlass Liz blows a hole in the side of the building with a cannon and then struts in, dropping the cannon on a man's lap. She then stabs a man off camera, killing him; A huge whale jumps out of the ocean, slams onto a dock and slides up to the bar the pirates are in. The jaw then opens, crushing a pirate underneath, and out slides Black Bellamy; Bellamy punches Pirate Captain in the shoulder semi-playfully; The pirates fire their guns in the air and their cannons at a nearby ship; A leper on a plague boat's left arm suddenly drops off; We see Pirate Captain firing a cannon ball through a book case; We see Charles Darwin in his cabin with cannon balls flying through walls past him. Pirate Captain then falls/crashes through the ceiling. He points his sword at Darwin and then swings his sword around the room, cutting up animal skeletons and the head off a stuffed monkey; We see a scary sign of Queen Victoria with flames on it and scary eyes and her holding the head of a pirate; We then see the skeleton of a dead pirate in a cage hanging from a pole. We see another alive pirate in another cage; The ship crashes into a little boat. They then drop the anchor on the man piloting that boat; During a chase scene, a bathtub full of pirates goes flying through Darwin's mansion, down multiple flights of stairs, while being pursued by artifacts that come tumbling after them. They then crash-land on top of Darwin's monkey butler. Later, Darwin smacks the monkey in the back of the head; Pirate Captain shatters his drink glass on the floor; We see a man sharpening an ax. They then put Captain on a chopping block to behead him, but they stop from killing him at the last second; A man with a bag over his head is hit in the head with a metal beer stein; The monkey points a gun at Captain and he swipes it, thinking it's not real and it goes off; Captain knocks a man off his bike and steals it; The Pirate of the Year award is a golden skull with a sword through it; Captain shoots the peglegs off three dancers; The Pirate King punches a person dressed as Queen Victoria; After the Awards winners are announced, Cutlass Liz stabs Peg Leg Hastings and he falls over, presumably dead; We see a table of world leaders all holding knives and forks menacingly; Captain slaps Charles in the face repeatedly; The monkey holds a gun on a boat-renter; Captain hits a chef in the head with a rolling pin; Victoria hits Darwin in the head with frying pans multiple times; Victoria chases Captain around a kitchen while waving swords; A mess of barrels of vinegar knock Victoria down a shaft. One of them crashes on Darwin; We see the pirates heaving desserts at the world leaders; A flood of baking soda and vinegar flushes the pirates through Victoria's ship; Polly nips Victoria in the face; Captain and Polly plummet to a spinning blade; We see a sign during the credits that has the illustration of a pirate with a knife in his back and the words "The Stabbed Pirate" written on it.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.