After I sat through the sheer awfulness of The Hunger Games, I needed something to help lift my spirits up, thankfully there is a new Aardman film out and it's Aardman's return to good old fashioned stop-motion animation. Now I love Aardman and I have been hyped for The Pirates all year, putting it ahead of films like Skyfall and Dark Shadows in my list of most anticipated films of 2012. So how does it hold up? It's one of the funniest films I've seen in a while.
Now firstly, I have to mention the jokes. Now I won't give all of the jokes away but rest assured, it's traditional Aardman humour. It's full of pop-culture jokes, but you won't notice all of the jokes. A lot of the jokes are in the background and I guarantee that you will not get all the jokes first time round. It's been 7 years since I first saw Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit and I still don't think I've seen all the jokes in that film. Needless to say, The Pirates retains this style of Aardman humour in full force and goes back to Aardman's roots in stop-motion and this in turn makes the background humour all the more endearing, you just know it took months of work to put the little things in the background for just a second of screen time, it's the things like this that make Aardman films such good fun to watch again and again. Going on from this, I watched The Pirates a second time and, proving my theory correct, there were more jokes I noticed the second time round.
Then along with these jokes come the characters and in this regard, The Pirates excels. Now I won't mention my full thoughts on Queen Victoria as I feel I'll spoil the film, rest assured the character is hilarious and the voice of Imelda Staunton (who also played one of the best villains of the past decade with Umbridge in the Harry Potter series) really fits the character. David Tennant is also great as Charles Darwin with his sophisticated voice beautifully balancing the ridiculousness of the other characters, plus the characterisation of Darwin as someone who just wants to have a girlfriend is really funny and the reason for Darwin getting involved in the plot makes a lot of sense, well as much sense as you can get in a film like this. Then there's Mr Bobo, Darwin's monkey butler who is, without a doubt, one of the funniest characters ever put to screen. The scale of the slapstick comedy coming from Bobo is incredible and the way in which the cards Bobo holds up to speak is incredible, a standout bit being when Bobo falls down a hole and the cards spell "aaaaahhhh" as they fall. I was nearly put on the floor laughing at that scene. Then there are the Pirates and they are all hilarious, from Brendan Gleeson being well Brendan Gleeson as The Pirate with Gout, to just how fun and enthusiastic Russell Tovey is as the Albino Pirate, to the entire concept of The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate. Brian Blessed as The Pirate King is essentially Brian Blessed, shouting as much as he can which is how I like Blessed. Martin Freeman is playing the traditional Martin Freeman role as the long suffering sidekick, The Pirate with a Scarf really well since, basically, it's the role Freeman has been playing for the last few years and Freeman is just as good in this film as he is in any of his other films. Finally Hugh Grant is great as the Pirate Captain. In this film, Grant doesn't have the same style of voice that he does in his most famous films (see Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral)) but I feel that this works to Grant's advantage in this film. You know that it is a Hugh Grant character but the simple change in his tone of voice makes him seem much funnier, especially when he's trying to be angry and bombastic. For some reason, this style works with the character of The Pirate Captain, someone who tries to bea pirate but just isn't cut out to be, despite his endless enthusiasm and this is what makes The Pirate Captain such a likeable character. The only problem with having this many great characters is that you don't get to spend as much time as you'd like with each character. I really wanted to spend more time with the Albino Pirate, Mr Bobo and the pirate enemies (Peg Leg Hastings, Cutlass Liz and Black Bellamy, all really funny characters by the way) but I couldn't because of the time restrictions. This is something that I hope the sequel will fix.
Then there's the plot and it is absolutely bonkers. It's not on the same level as A Town Called Panic, no film can ever be as bonkers as that, but it's bonkers in its own right. This film was based on a series of books by Gideon Defoe, who adapted his books to the screen, and Defoe is a really good writer of jokes and plot. The plot takes us everywhere from pirate ports to the heart of London to Queen Victoria's fortress boat and you never question how the film gets from place to place, you just go along with it because it's that type of film. As I stated earlier, the way Darwin and the scientists get involved in the plot makes a lot of sense for this type of film because in any other film, it would never make sense. Only an Aardman film could have Charles Darwin teaming up with Pirates and no other company would put as much care into this type of film as Aardman.
In conclusion, The Pirates is great fun. Great characters, great plot and more great jokes packed into 88 minutes than the entire filmography of Adam Sandler managed. I cannot wait for the sequel which I hope will be The Pirates in an Adventure with Communists (I can see that title going over well in America).
My Rating: 4/5