It’s a little depressing that a really funny and genuinely enjoyable movie like The Pirates! Band of Misfits only pulled in $31 million in U.S. theaters, while the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks debacle made something like four times that amount. Are people mentally deficient in some way? Yes, clearly they are. But, it’s not too late, you can watch The Pirates! on Blu-ray and set things right between you and your God of choice. I’ll be the first to admit that The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a really awkward and lame title. It’s as though the producers made a thoroughly entertaining and hilarious stop motion film and then said, “What can we do to make sure people don’t come see our movie…I know, give it a stupid title!” Ignore the title--which makes the flick sound like something you watch when you’re tired of your Swan Lake Barbie DVD--and get to the good stuff…the movie itself.
Created by Aardman, the studio that does Wallace and Gromit, Arthur Christmas and other underseen movies, The Pirates! is, by far, the best animated film of 2012. The plot isn’t particularly inventive. As the title notes, the band of pirates, led by the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant using a voice that I wouldn’t recognize as his if it didn’t say “Hugh Grant” in the credits), are pretty misfit-y. They indulge in activities like taking over a ship only to realize the ship is full of lepers rather than gold. This makes it hard for the Pirate Captain to win Pirate of the Year, an award he craves. His crew, led by the Pirate with the Scarf (Martin Freeman), the Pirate with Gout (Brenden Gleeson), and the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen), want him to be happy, so they follow into one hairbrained scheme after another in order to get the booty needed to make him top pirate.
The film’s schemes involve a young scientist named Charles Darwin (David Tennent), Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), the Pirate King (Brian Blessed), and a funny chimp with flash cards that say things like “Bum…bum….BUM” when the tension heats up. The Queen doesn’t care for pirates, Darwin is trying to break into the scientific elite and get a girl to kiss him, and the Pirate King looks like Elvis. That’s about it.
The humor is found both in the hilarious lines and the visual gags. Although children will love the slapstick antics and some of the silly lines, The Pirates! is not just a movie for kids. Adults will be able to catch quite a few subtler but equally funny jokes within the character’s verbal rapport and the film’s incredibly detailed backgrounds. This isn’t super sophisticated humor that people can’t get, it’s just, well, funny. Some of the jokes aim at the lowest common denominator, but the rest will hit fans of Monty Python, Ricky Gervais, and other British imports just right.
In addition to the fantastic script, written by The Pirates! series author Gideon Defoe, the film boast visuals that are a combination of stop-motion animation and CGI backgrounds. The detail to the visual jokes is amazing, but they never detract from the story—they just offer a whole new set of things to laugh about during a second or even third viewing. Director Peter Lord, who also helmed Chicken Run, clearly has a great sense of humor and is willing to take the time to give some of the people who want to watch the movie multiple times a payoff. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is both clever and satisfying, but you don’t need a doctorate and a magnifying glass to get the humor in the film. The Pirates! Band of Misfits was released in the theaters in both 3-D and 2-D versions and there are, likewise, 3-D and 2-D Blu-ray sets. This review is for the 2-D version, since 3-D is always a big waste of time and money in my book. The 2-D version includes both the Blu-ray and DVD formats, as well as the opportunity to download a digital copy. The glorious HD is put to amazing use with this film. This is stop-motion animation at its highest form and it looks crisp and perfect in High Definition.
As is often the case with animated films these days, there is a short film included that has the same pirate characters in a new adventure. Called “So You Want to be a Pirate!”, the segment is almost 20 minutes and has the same wit and slapstick joy as the full movie. General wackiness ensues when the Pirate Captain returns to host a TV Show about being a pirate. Unfortunately, "So You Want to be a Pirate" was not directed by Peter Lord; however, it is a nice successor to the full movie.
Despite the humor that permeates the movie, the filmmaking trio that provides the commentary track is surprisingly…straight. Director/Producer Lord, Co-Director Jeff Newitt, and Editor Justin Krish are teeming with technical details and production history but aren’t very funny to listen to. That’s not to say that the commentary is no good. It is very informative and pretty enjoyable from a knowledge standpoint, but you wonder if these guys were a little burnt out from loading up the funny in the movie and just didn’t have much left for the bonus features. Still, if you want to know which shorts are stop-motion and which are CGI, or even what most scenes were supposed to be like in their original form, it is a great extra.
Lord also provides a commentary of sorts for two stop-motion shorts from his past. One is a near dialogue-free tale of twins in the Middle Ages called “Wat’s Pig” and the other is “War Story,” which features an animated version of a British WWII veteran’s real reminisces. They are a bit crude (especially “Wat’s Pig”) but have their separate charms. Lord’s commentary only lasts for about two minutes at the beginning of each short that gives a brief background on the year of production and reasons the particular subject matter was chosen.
There is a 20 minute 'making of' featurette called “From Stop to Motion” which goes over nearly every aspect of stop motion animation in general and this movie in particular. The work that goes into this type of film is amazing and the segment does a good job of explaining how stop motion works in a brief and understandable manner. There is also a similar eight-minute overview of the bathtub chase scene and how it was shot. The latter extra pretty much takes everything in the longer featurette and applies it all to one insanely complicated scene.
Almost everything on the disc is like the movie itself, perfectly appropriate and enjoyable for kids, but not dumbed down for the grown-ups. However, there are two games--a dress-up choice game and a flash card game--that are for kids and will have little appeal to the adults. That said, this is a great movie with a solid set of extras and you should run out and get it before they release another stupid Chipmunks movie.
By Mike Reyes
By Mike Reyes
By Dirk Libbey