Patience is a virtue, a phrase that the folks at Aardman Animation studios will understand only too well. After endless accolades and praise it's easy to forget that the studio has produced only two stop motion animated films in the past 12 years. The inspired Chicken Run got the creative juices flowing, which was then followed up by the beloved Wallace & Gromit's first movie outing, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The Pirates! is to become their third project and after five years in the making, an all-star cast and returning director Lord at the helm, can Aardman live up to their ridiculously high standards?
The story revolves around the Pirate Captain (Grant) and his loyal crew – the members of which include the Pirate with Gout (Gleeson), the Pirate with a Scarf (Freeman) and the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Jensen). The Pirate Captain is eager to win the Pirate of the Year Award after failing many times in the past. He soon realises that he is no match for the competition once again and swiftly decides to take matters into his own hands. He sets off on a quest to collect treasure chests of booty to impress the judges and prove to the pirating fraternity that he truly is the best in the seven seas. On his adventure he meets Charles Darwin (Tennant) and is pursued by the scourge of all pirates, Queen Victoria (Staunton).
The Pirates! manages to overcome the challenge faced by many a family film: that is, how to appeal to all ages. It's an exciting and raucous adventure for young and old alike. There are gags of all sizes crammed into the frame, making it such a dense film that you'd be more than happy to see it again to catch what you missed the first time around. It's abound with energy, a fitting musical score and a Python-esque tinted level of humour for good measure.
What's most impressive is the detail and care given to the production. Elaborate sets and character designs on such an intricate level demonstrate the commitment and painstaking effort dedicated to the film, as is the hallmark of all Aardman projects. CGI is used on occasions, but do not fear, it is just to enhanace backdrops or shots at sea. The technology is integrated seamlessly with the stop motion process to create a visual feast, which is not improved by the vague 3D effect.
The voice cast do an excellent job throughout with an almost unrecognisable Grant playing a captain brimming with confidence. A solid Freeman plays the second in command along with an excellent group of pirates, who all seem to be enjoying their roles. Tenant has plenty to do as a lonely Darwin plus his silent but hilarious Monkey butler steals the show. Hayek, Piven and Blessed all make small but effective appearances, only Jack Sparrow was missing. Clearly Aardman have cast the right actors for the roles, rather than some of their competitors in the animation world.
The story is perhaps a little standard and doesn't quite keep up the momentum in the final moments, but the Pirates! is never boring. The story becomes secondary to the characters and settings but it still leaves plenty to enjoy and had me chuckling all the way through. So it's great, silly fun and a lovely return to Aardmans classic movie-making approach. It's just such a shame that the process takes so long.
EXTRAS ★★★ An audio commentary with co-directors Lord and Newitt, and editor Justin Krish; the behind-the-scenes featurette From Stop to Motion (20:52); the featurette Creating the Bath Chase Sequence (8:22); and the interactive Pirate Disguise Dressup Game.