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Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS


It's been a while since we've last seen a true-blue animated film that was more-or-less created in the painstakingly crafted stop-motion technique. Maybe it's just me, but when you look at one of these kinds of films and realize that each character model or set piece was physically made by the God-given human hand, the resulting illusion on screen becomes just as extraordinary and remarkable as any CGI-laden motion picture. We've seen an onslaught of computer-animated films recently, so it's nice to see that The Pirates! Band of Misfits - from the same creators of Chicken Run - are back at the ready to startle the eyes and the minds of average moviegoers with its visually stunning stop-motion antics.

The elemental plot line to The Pirates! Band of Misfits finds Hugh Grant voicing the appropriately named Pirate Captain, who leads his rambunctious but endearingly loyal crew on adventures in the high seas. But all that really matters to Pirate Captain is discovering the greatest pirate booty in order to claim the coveted "Pirate of the Year Award," to which he has yet to find. It turns out that he may have had the booty in his possession all along, but whether or not it was worth giving up is the ultimate question that will lead him and his crew through hapless turmoil as others try to retrieve the precious item.

It's not the most invigorating story to come out of Aardman Animations considering they pulled out all the stops for the wildly whimsical Chicken Run, but that wry British wit still weaves its way through the Pirate genre's archetypes to become something of its own.  In fact, it works well for the most part; under the direction and discipline of Peter Lord, the film spreads enough light humor and sight-gags for each member of the family to enjoy. There are moments where the filmmakers try for aggressive wordplay that teeters on the sound of a pin drop, but they remain resilient enough that the scenes never go overboard (pun intended). There's always a sense of balance in each of its three acts that even when those moments feel like the film is ready to walk to plank (okay, that one was forced).

As stated earlier, the film is impeccable to look at. This is Aardman's technically finest feat so far, featuring seamless animation and wonderfully ingenius ways to establish the atmosphere. The crispness and fluidity of the characters actually adds to their personality, resulting in characters that are fleshed out without even having to utter a line of dialogue. The action sequences are not overdone - rather, they are done too well, by which I mean they are quite fun and brisk in the tightly-knit time allotted to them, even if there are eye-rolling moments of release to the gimmick of 3D. The voice work from its well-rounded British cast and peculiar soundtrack also help to enhance the experience.

Pirates! is simply good, wholehearted family fare. It only requires that you have as much of an adventure as the pirates themselves do, and I believe Peter Lord and his crew at Aardman have pretty much achieved that. It doesn't hit any new territory and it won't bust your gut, but it does have some absolutely stunning animation, fine voice work and enough humor in it that can only make you grin throughout its 90-minute runtime. 

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