Saturday, 7 April 2012

FILM REVIEW: Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!

That there it the cutest animated Dodo you will ever come across on screen, I'll tell you that now for free. Probably not the most positive ringing endorsement I should come out with after watching Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists! but I seem to have yet again stumbled into a film broadly marketed for everyone but in reality only for kids, and adults who spend a lot of time with their kids, meaning I really wish I hadn't paid for it (well at least I avoided the 3D).

Pirates! is the latest plasticine outing from Aardman, centring on the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and his quest to become Pirate of the Year, becoming entangled with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and the evil Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) along the way. It's based on the children's book by British author Gideon Defoe, whose rather 'educational' series sees the Pirates later have encounters with the Communists Karl Marx and Friedrch Engels, and the romantic poets Byron, Shelley and Keats. I saw a preview of this at Empire Big Screen last Summer where director Peter Lord introduced clips and a showreel from the film, first tickling my fancy. I like Aardman but wouldn't say I'm a huge fan - like any Brit I've seen all the Wallace and Gromit films and feel cosily patriotic of them if anybody asks. But Pirates! looked genuinely funny, with a stellar cast of voice actors and it's about pirates for God's sake, who doesn't love pirates? I've spent many an hour plundering on the Sid Meier PC game.

The animation is of course faultless and goes above and beyond paying attention to detail. Really enjoyed the opening credits where we follow the pirates' boat across a ye olde coffee coloured map of the world, bumping into sea monsters, Poseidon, compasses and creases in the paper, and really glad they kept that up throughout the film as well giving it that nice little authentic, traditional touch that glorifies the spirit of Aardman. The boat was fabulous too - you just can't help but feel a little giddiness of excitement whatever your age when there's a magnificent galleon on the screen (I desperately still wish they made boats today like they used to in the 17th Century - it's one of many fantasy wishes).

Hugh Grant was the perfect pirate camptain (that was actually a typo, but it actually fits rather well). A lovable rogue of the seas, both charming and utterly stupid, he has that true heart that all Aardman creations do, which means when he enters the Pirate of the Year competition with his modest efforts only to be trumped by the super trio of Peg Leg, Cutlass Liz and Back Bellamy (Lenny Henry, Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven) who laugh at how insignificant he is, it's hard not to feel really sad for him (didn't quite reach the waterbucket stage, though). In fact by far the best moment in the film is when the Pirate Captain is having one of his "sad" moments - abandoned by his crew - and "I'm Not Crying" from Flight of the Conchords suddenly appears on the soundtrack. No tiny child is going to get that reference, but I had a good few moments just joining in with that genius ("I'm not upset because you left me this way, my eyes are just a little sweaty today"). The whole soundtrack was fab actually - the most adult thing about it. Enjoyed the little bromance the Pirate Captain had going as well with Number Two (Martin Freeman, in everything these days) but it was his interactions with Polly the Dodo that were the best - nuzzling up to her and giving her baby talk. OH I JUST WANTED THE DODO, OKAY. GIVE ME THE DAMN DODO.

The biggest problem was that to the average film goer over about 15, it just wasn't funny enough to properly stand out. Kids will love it, but Aardman just don't have the same unmissable cinema as Pixar do. Halfway through the film I realised I would have been perfectly content watching this on a Sunday afternoon on TV in about two years time - I needn't have wasted my money on it. The story was too rambling for my attention span, and I just wanted to grab for the comfortable happy ending sooner than it came. Queen Victoria, as much as Imelda Staunton was fun, just didn't feel right as the main villain - for a pirating adventure there just wasn't enough sea faring, treasure seeking and canon shooting as there should have been.

I enjoyed and smiled as much as I did in Mirror Mirror, which actually has a lot in common with Pirates! - both family friendly films but aimed primarily at the younger kids, visually arresting and entertaining throughout but both of them not for me, and not ones I'll be seeking out to watch again. If you do have a family though, you're spoilt for choice over the Easter holidays for the little ones.

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