It’s not every kid’s flick that features Queen Victoria, the Elephant Man and Charles Darwin. “Pirates! Band of Misfits,” however, isn’t like most kid’s movies. The latest film from Aardman, the British animators behind “Chicken Run” and the “Wallace and Gromit” movies, is splendid sidesplitting swashbuckling fun.
The story begins with Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant) filling out a form to enter the Pirate of the Year Award. He’s lost 21 times in a row—he’s such a lame pirate, the reward for his capture is only 12 doubloons and a free pen—but feels like this might be his year. Marking down “lustrous beard” as one of his strong points, he’s up against former winners Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), who makes a spectacular entrance on a whale’s tongue, and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek). The goal is to gather as much pirate booty as possible. Pirate Captain is far behind, and a plundering spree doesn’t do much to enhance his chances, until he boards the ship of Charles Darwin (David Tennant). There’s no gold aboard Darwin’s ship, but when the evolutionary scientist notices Pirate Captain’s bird isn’t a “big-boned parrot” as they all assumed, but a thought-to-be-extinct Dodo bird, the Captain sees a way to get the money he needs to win the top pirate contest. First he must get past Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) who has a real hate for pirates.
“Pirates! Band of Misfits” mixes gentle family friendly humor, with some absurdist Monty Python style gags and Aardman’s usual whimsy. There is so much going on here you may want to see this more than once to catch all the sight gags and throw-a-way lines on offer. The humor is layered, both vocally and visually, and should appeal to every member of the family.
Some of the goings-on, however, may be lost on younger kids. The Elephant Man cameo, for instance, is strictly for adults, but kids will enjoy many of the characters—particularly Darwin’s monkey butler— and perhaps even pick up on the moral that by doing the right thing Pirate Captain was able to become what he always wanted to be—a bad guy.