The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists
Peter Lord brings us the best family film of the year so far.
With Aardman having lit up the festive season with Arthur Christmas, their second release in relatively quick succession comes with Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists. It’s a return to their familiar stop-motion clay animation style, harking back to the good old days of Wallace and Gromit.
The story follows a band of pirates, and their proud but bumbling leader, Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant). Seeking to win the elusive Pirate of the Year award, he is fixated on becoming the most successful privateer on the high seas. Raiding a scientific ship led by a young Charles Darwin (David Tennant), adventure ensues with the reluctant biologist in tow.
The familiar Aardman sense of humour is in full effect, with plenty of silly slapstick comedy bringing the laughs, and the sharply written dialogue combines with masterful animation work to make these clay figures as adept at comic expression as their real-life voice artists. There are a number of recurring gags, some of which are a tad over-used (the monkey butler), whilst others are consistently giggle-inducing (The pirates’ clever disguises).
Of course, as good as the script is, it is in need of a top-drawer cast to bring it to life. Pirates is stocked full of top British comic talent, with Grant, Tennant, Martin Freeman, and countless others extracting the wit and vibrancy from their characters. Grant is an inspired choice as the captain, with a swaggering, inflated self-confidence reminiscent of a bearded Zap Brannigan, of Futurama fame. Brendan Gleeson and Ashley Jensen also pop up as crew members, taking many of the best lines in the film, and Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven shine in small roles as rival pirates. Of course, no voice cast would be complete without Brian Blessed, who makes a glorious cameo here as the pirate king.
Like all great family adventures, it is just that – aimed at families, not solely children. There are plenty of subtler moments which adults will enjoy just as much as the younger members of the audience, and with the Easter holidays ahoy, Pirates really does represent a great choice for the whole family.
The minutely detailed sets and characters look superb, with the craft and dedication of the Aardman animators evident in every frame of the film. With all the top-name talent on the posters, it really is the technical personnel who are the stars of the show here. This really is one of those animated films which is simply a joy to look at, with the great visuals constituting much of the charm of Pirates. Even the 3D is well-handled, with the stop motion style translating well, and it is given a couple of moments to stand out, rather than simply adding a layer of depth. Whether or not it’s worth paying the extra couple of doubloons is less of a doubt in this case, as the third dimension really does work well here.
With Arthur Christmas a hit, and Pirates looking to continue the studio’s impeccable record (let’s not forget the excellent Curse of the Were-Rabbit), Aardman are very much at the peak of their powers at the moment. Pirates takes a great cast, brilliant visuals and a fun script and scores big. One or two recurring jokes lose their sheen towards the end, and the final slapstick fight scene may not be to everyone’s taste, but Pirates is a truly great family film, with plenty here for parents and kids alike to enjoy.