The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! is Aardman Animations fifth feature film and is based on the first two books in the Pirates! series by Gideon Defoe. For reasons known only to the marketing department, this movie has been retitled The Pirates! Band of Misfits! for its US release. When, I first saw the trailer for this movie way back in 2012, I thought that it had the potential to be a witty, inventive, quirky, and entertaining piece of film making, because that's what Aardman Animations does. The day they produce an inferior product is the day to quit watching movies, right? But let us not forget that even the most exemplary studio record can be blemished by the occasional wrong step (Yes, I'm looking at you Pixar after Cars 2). Happily that is not the case here. Having seen The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! twice now, it is an extremely droll and clever animated movie. The film was nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature but lost to Pixar's Brave.
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! is a finely tooled, richly embellished, genuinely funny piece of film making. It works on so many levels and once again succinctly demonstrates that Aardman Animations totally "get" the art of film making in every possible way. Furthermore you have a movie that can genuinely appeal to all age groups. There's none of your contrived focus group driven, age or gender specific targeting here. Just an engaging film that is accessible to all and entertaining on multiple levels. Hollywood take note. You don't need a bunch of bean counters pawing over market research and surveys to make a successful and quality film. You simply need to have an abiding love and respect for the medium, as well as a good screenplay. It also helps if you credit your audience with some degree of intelligence. Plus make sure you have Jokes. Lots of jokes. Sight gags, slapstick and verbal humour.
Okay, for those who insist on a plot synopsis, the narrative focuses on the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) who is desperately trying to win the much-coveted Pirate of the Year Award. But he's not exactly at the top of his game and is often ridiculed by fellow Pirates Peg Leg Hastings, Cutlass Liz and Black Bellamy. Furthermore the Pirate Captain's crew are somewhat lacklustre, being named after their personal attributes and foibles. These include such individuals as the Pirate with Gout (voiced by Brendan Gleeson and looking suspiciously like the actor to), the Pirate with a Scarf, the Albino Pirate and the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (who is in fact a woman). After boarding the Beagle and capturing naturalist Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) in a desperate attempt to improve his reputation, the Pirate captain discovers that his new parrot Polly is actually the last Dodo. Darwin convinces him that such a discovery could be invaluable to all concerned. I shall say no more than that. The plot even manages to have a few twists that may surprise the audience.
It is a cliché to say "hilarity ensures" after providing a plot summary. In fact it is often a prefix which carries a degree of derision or irony, as so many comedy films confuse hilarity with being crass. However in the case of The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! The phrase can be genuinely used. The humour is subtlety different from Aardman Animations usual Wallace and Gromit fare, but is no less charming or emotive for it. There is a strong streak of traditional English humour throughout the movie that reflects a strong understanding and love of the UK's comedic heritage. From Monty Python and Douglas Adams to the Goons. It manifests itself in both overt and subtle ways. From Darwin’s chimpanzee butler Mr Bobo (who sports a monocle and communicates with cure cards) to the underlying fixation with ham. Every scene is packed with visual embellishments and throwaway gags. Certainly, this is a film that can happily sustain multiple viewings and still offer up new surprises.
The craft involved in this cinematic undertaking is staggering. There is CGI in places, usually to deal with wider environmental aspects such as the ocean and the weather. But pretty much everything else that you see is traditional hand-crafted stop motion animation and it works beautifully. The range of expressions along with the pathos and drama that is created via the medium puts a lot of contemporary Hollywood fodder to shame. If you watch any of the “making of” extras found on the DVD and Blu-ray release of the film, you'll see and appreciate the minute attention to detail that the animators have lavished on every aspect of the production. Often it only registers fleetingly on the screen, but it’s all done due to a consummate love of their craft and its presence enhances every single frame.
As film making is a financial endeavour as well as an artistic one, Sony Pictures decided to temper some of the British excesses of this production and create a separate version for the US market. As previously mentioned, the title of the film was changed and some minor jokes that referenced foibles of UK culture were removed. Furthermore, there have been some alterations to the voice acting. The Albino Pirate, voiced in the UK version by Russell Tovey, was replaced by Anton Yelchin. Similarly, Ben Whitehead's performance as The Pirate who likes Sunsets and Kittens, has been replaced by Al Roker. Overall these changes do not undermine the film in any major way. However, if you’re a cinematic “purist” then I would recommend the UK print over the US version. Either way, if you enjoy animated movies then The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! is well worth viewing. Aardman Animations are an exemplar of all that is best in film production and standout like an oasis of talent in the current desert of Hollywood mediocrity. Plus any movie that features Swords of a Thousand Men by Tenpole Tudor on the soundtrack can’t be bad.