Aardman Animations’ madcap pirate adventure is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray and looks every bit as spectacular as it did on the big screen. The immense attention to detail and eye-catching colour pallet looks particularly spectacular on the Blu version and the disc really does this delightful family comedy justice.
Aardman are quite rightly viewed as a beloved British institution, right up there with Steven Fry and failing miserably at international football tournaments. Pirates marked their first foray back into the world of stop-motion animation in seven years after the equally wondrous Wallace & Gromit : The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Both the less successful Flushed Away and the return to form that was Arthur Christmas saw them dabbling in the realm of more traditional CGI fare. Thus a return to the world of stop-motion, a world the studio played a pivotal role in developing, was always going to be a noteworthy cinematic event. Luckily, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists didn’t disappoint.
Based on the incredibly successful novels by Gideon Defoe, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, the story is a winning blend of both incredibly smart and incredibly silly. The plot revolves around the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) and his motley band of misfits including the rather marvelously named Pirate With a Scarf, Pirate With Gout and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate. The Pirate Captain dreams of winning the coveted Pirate of the Year award but is seen as something of a joke amongst his fellow captains. After being laughed out of the room when he arrives to sign up for the competition, he becomes more determined than ever to prove them all wrong. The Pirate Captain then leads his crew out onto the high-seas to plunder untold volumes of booty and make his case for the coveted title. Needless to say, it doesn’t go according to plan as things begin to go from bad to worse.
All that seems to change however when the pirates board the ship of one Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who is amazed to find that their ship’s beloved parrot Polly, is in fact a living breathing Dodo. Long thought to be extinct, the discovery of Polly causes Charles to tempt the Pirate Captain to London with the promise of fame, and possibly fortune, thanks to the Royal Society’s prize for Scientific discovery. Once there, the crew must not only avoid being tricked by Darwin and his dastardly chimp-helper Mr Bobo, but also steer clear of the authorities and that most renowned of all pirate-haters, Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
There’s a whole range of laughs to be had throughout Pirates from puns and sight gags to quick and clever one liners. Personal favourites of mine include the continuing series of jokes mined from showing the ship’s journey via an illustrated map, Mr Bobo’s flashcards and the Pirate crew’s incredible adeptness with disguises. Part of the joy of watching the film back in the comfort of your own home is being able to take in some of the jokes you may have missed first time around. There really is that much to absorb. Director Peter Lord deserves great credit for finding a tremendous balance between clever and witty one minute, and downright silly the next.
The mightily impressive voice cast all do sterling work with Hugh Grant and Imelda Staunton deserving of particular praise. Grant’s luxuriously-bearded Pirate Captain is a lovable buffoon who you can’t help but root for and Staunton’s deliriously OTT Queen Vic is part Monarch and part Machiavellian Bond Villain.
As I’ve already said, the attention to detail is just breathtaking in Pirates and the sheer amount of care and time which went into producing this film is right up there to see on the screen. I’d go as far as to say it has raised the bar for stop-motion animation and that can surely only be a positive thing. It’s almost a little cliche to say this now but this really is a film for the whole family to enjoy. Unashamedly fun and infectiously charming, the blend of slick comedy with anarchic craziness really proves to be a winning combination. One can only hope that the studio decide to press on with a sequel and explore more of Gideon’s books as they are clearly on to a real winner.
The extras aren’t that overwhelming, but there’s an interesting commentary courtesy of Peter Lord and a couple of featurettes looking at the production of the bathtub chase scene in particular as well as a more extensive look at the stop motion process in general. Not particularly comprehensive but the film itself is such a gem it’s still well worth adding to the collection.
Directors: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Stars: Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven
Runtime: 88 min
Country: UK, USA