Friday, 30 March 2012

Review: The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists

Rating: U
Duration: 88 mins

Aardamn return with their second release in the past six months, after the wonderfully whimsical animation Arthur Christmas, and have since reverted back to their stop motion forte the studio are renowned for.

Peter Lord co-directs alongside Jeff Newitt, as the British animators package their first cinematic effort since 2005's Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, retaining the high quality synonymous with the likes of Chicken Run and indeed, the Wallace & Gromit franchise. 

The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists - or The Pirates! Band of Misfits as per the American title - is quintessentially British through-and-through; whether it's the subtle Blue Peter badge one of the pirates sports on his hat, or the custard creams the Captain dips in his tea, Aardman do a noble job of sticking to their dignified roots where they can.

Plot-wise, the film isn't massively ambitious. The story revolves around the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), who is blindly driven in his desire to win Pirate of the Year, having miserably failed the twenty or so attempts previously. However, with his trusty crew (including the voices of Ashley Jensen, Martin Freeman and Brendan Gleeson), he's determined to brush aside his competitors Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), in order to finally swipe the title. The gang's escapades take them to London where an indignant Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) resides, boasting a rather unfathomable hatred towards piracy, which in turn proves a catalyst for impending frivolity.

Cue a typical British adventure that oozes a delightful charm in what is an enjoyable and child-friendly movie. That said, whilst swift action and comical set-ups will appeal to the younger demographic, there's plenty of subtle nuances and nods for a mature audience, too. 

The ever-detailed sets will reward the more savvy observers who'll notice amusing background props, posters, and shop signs to warrant a giggle, yet ultimately the film's tone does tend to opt for a more plain-levelled approach in its entertainment: whilst completely accessible, it also feels rather quaint in terms of scale as it never really pushes for a more grandiose spectacle at any point. Therefore, on this basis, the experience as a whole tends to underwhelm. Never do we get a genuine sense that the film is trying to push itself, either. Whilst technically it's a marvel, the lack of thrills and narrative engagement unfortunately make the experience hollow at times.

A project that took two-and-a-half years in the making really shows in its pay-off; the painstaking effort that's gone into its meticulous production is visible in the wonderful animation: it's vibrant, lively, and - with a style recognisable around the globe - is hard not to fall in love with the mouthwatering sight. 

VERDICT: An enjoyable and amusing adventure is strengthened by a unique and beautiful aesthetic only Aardman can pull off, but its tame story and all too basic approach to engage a younger audience can leave the elders dissatisfied and feeling a little short changed.