Pirates! Band of Misfits
I remember when pirate films were laughed at. Back when Cutthroat Island bombed in theaters, the market dried up. Most studios considered pirates as old fashioned and clique. But in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl brought in the booty for the studios again. I like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It tries adding supernatural/fantasy elements with clever characters like Jack Sparrow. Even if the movies aren’t good, they’re somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me. I find great joy in Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. What makes him work is good writing. I did not find it here.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is the latest film from the great animation company, Aardman. If Studio Gibli is the Japanese Disney, then Aardman is the British Disney. I loved Wallace and Gromit. I loved Chicken Run. Arthur Christmas was one of my favorites from last year. So you can tell that I had high expectations. Like most people, I found the trailers unimpressive. Once I heard that this was getting good reviews, I decided buy a ticket and hope for the best. Did I find some treasure in this chest?
In the latest stop motion clay animated movie, the story centers around the Pirate Captain (and yes, that is his only name) and his quest for glory. All he wants is to win the pirate of the year award but has to deal with his less then intelligent crew and his own incompetence. When he starts raiding the ship of Charles Darwin, the famous scientist identifies the Captains fat parrot as the last living Dodo. Since earlier plundering has failed, they decide to go to England to show to the Royal Society to win the riches of the scientist of the year award. But Queen Victoria hates pirates and has sent many armadas to rid the seven seas of these scurvy scum.
The film plays out like a pirate film from the past. I will admit that the film has a great adventure tone (not to mention a great music score). I wouldn’t have mind a throwback to the classical pirates. But instead of making a satire tribute, they have made white noise.
The best thing about the film is the animation. I understand that this is the hardest and most time consuming of the fields. The company has already shown it can create great sets, characters, and stories. This movie has that, but what it lacks is good jokes. Pirates! Band of Misfits is clearly trying to aim for a younger audience. There’s more slapstick then wit. I found most of it feeling outdated. I rarely found any of it funny (though the montage of the Pirate Captain raiding several ships was hilarious). What backfires is that most children won’t even know who Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria are and their not going to care. What made Aardman magical was that they had the ability to capture audiences with both visual and witty jokes, and appeal to a general audience. I hope they learn their lesson.
This is getting two and a half out of five cannonballs. Despite a joke or two I liked, Pirates! Band of Misfits does not have much sparkled treasure. I'll wait to see if Tim Burton can do better in stop motion with the upcoming Frankenwennie.