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Movie Review: 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits'

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Starring Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant
Directed by Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Rated PG

The evening I saw the screening of The Three Stooges, I was also able to catch an advanced screening for The Pirates! Band of Misfits.  Now, maybe because The Three Stooges wasn't to my comedic tastes (which may have made Pirates! seem so much better), but I was pleasantly surprised by the 3D stop-action plunder-based comedy.  To add to the fun, after the film there was a live Q&A with the director, Peter Lord (more on that later).  But if you're looking for a safe, family film that everyone will love, this is it.

Pirates! Band of Misfits centers around Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and his appropriately named crew, such as The Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) and The Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman). However, Pirate Captain isn't much of a pirate; he routinely comes in last place for the Pirate of the Year award.  Yet all that changes when he boards the ship of the lonely Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who takes one look at Pirate Captain's parrott, Polly, and immediately realizes that Polly may be the last of a previously thought extinct bird species.

This film has a superb voice cast, including Hugh Grant (who seems to have been a bit absent from cinema lately), David Tennant, Martin Freeman, and Imelda Staunton as the evil Queen Victoria, with vocal appearances by Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek, to just name a few.  The chemistry and repertoire between the onscreen characters was great, especially between Pirate Captain (Grant) and Charles Darwin (Tennant) and The Pirate with a Scarf (Freeman), almost to the point you would swear they recorded their lines together, but director Peter Lord in his interview swore they all recorded their lines separately.  However, they are all overshadowed by an unlikely character; an otherwise silent monkey with cue cards.

The script, penned by Gideon Defoe, is charming, witty, and innocent fun (the "evil"  deeds of our pirate heroes are represented in name only, such as using babies as shark bait, or something like that.  The theater was so loud with laughter that I may have to go see this one again).  The characters have depth, even if it's something like Charles Darwin going into science to impress Queen Victoria, because he has a crush on her and has never even kissed a girl.  The one liners are almost instant classics as well; I'm probably misquoting it, but the line "London smells like Grandma!" still makes me chuckle.  There are so many ongoing jokes that don't seem to get old (such as their love of ham night) and small details that made me wish for a pause button (several shop names on the pirate island were amusing).  It just doesn't seem fair for one film to have so much clever humor.

There's even talk of a sequel already, as Gideon Defoe has a few more stories penned about Pirate Captain and his crew.

The Q&A with Peter Lord shed some light into how these stop motion films are made, especially with 3D.  For the 3D effects, they had to film with two cameras, one for each eye.  And if you know anything about stop motion (especially you Wallace & Grommit fans out there), these films are shot one frame at a time; the models are manipulated by hand between each still.  It's extremely time consuming; I can't remember offhand how long Peter Lord said it took them, but several years comes to mind.  I hope it goes without saying that the amount of time they took really reflects on the final quality of the film.

All in all, this film was a treat, even without getting to meet it's famed director.  The simple fact that I want to see it again says something; it's not often that I want to see a movie again so soon after the first viewing.

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