Following the mildly disappointing Wallace and Gromit movie, rat-com Flushed Away and the sweet but slight Arthur Christmas, a case could have been made that Aardman Animation were losing their mojo – that spark of madcap genius that made their early shorts so spectacular. Well, said spark is back with a vengeance in this deliriously entertaining tale of a pirate crew and their efforts to become internationally regarded scientific boffins.
Hugh Grant voices The Pirate Captain, whose attempts to become Pirate of the Year are constantly thwarted because, well, he’s not very good at his job. But when kidnapped naturalist (and girl-shy nerd) Charles Darwin points out that the Captain’s beloved parrot Polly is in fact the last living dodo, the Captain and his merry crew – who, in keeping with screenwriter Gideon Defoe’s 2004 source novel, all have names like The Pirate with Gout and The Pirate with a Scarf – set sail for London to present their find to the Royal Society.
Movies like the Shrek series have largely devalued the idea of a film aimed at both children and parents, but The Pirates! gets the balance spot on. Kids will be enthralled by all the action, slapstick and yo-ho-ho-ing while the olds will get a kick out of the intricate visual detail, sparkling wit (there’s not a single ‘avast behind’ gag) and wild historical inaccuracies: find me another movie in which Jane Austen chucks a beer mug at the Elephant Man.
The result is a brilliant mish-mash of styles and genres, crammed with ideas and intelligence and carried off with a sense of rebellious fun and breathtaking invention not seen since, well, The Wrong Trousers. Glorious.