Before we start, and in the interests of complete disclosure, let’s get one thing out of the way. We’ve never been a fan of the work of Aardman Animations. Sure, we can appreciate the craftsmanship and whatnot, but it just isn’t really our thing. That being said we did have great expectations for their latest effort, the brilliantly titled The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists.
As the film begins, to the bold refrain of Rule Britannia we’re subliminally reminded of Aardman’s position on the world stage of animation. They are quite literally the best at what they do; the winners of countless academy awards and all-round great British success story. The film itself is concerned with what might be seen as their opposing figure. Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is, to put it simply a rubbish pirate: He has no peg leg, doesn’t wear an eye patch and his parrot isn’t even a parrot. The plot of the film concerns Pirate Captain’s attempts to win the Pirate Of The Year award, a competition which pits him against Jeremy Piven, Selma Hayek and, er, Lenny Henry. We follow Pirate Captain and his band of hapless prodigies as they attempt to pull off a plight worthy of the prize at hand.
The films biggest problem stems from a lack of depth. There’s a distinct flatness to Aardman’s latest effort (something of an achievement considering it’s their first 3D film), with a general lack of heart and character too. Even at less than 90 minutes the film feels padded at times, with the plotting struggling to keep up with the reasonably interesting premise of the film.
It’s not all bad though. The animation is spectacular, with the mind still boggling as to just how the geniuses at Aardman managed to pull of the water effects, while the world itself that they have created is rich and beautifully realised. A number of sight gags work really well, and its these understated moments that are its greatest strength. Unlike the dated and obnoxious Dreamworks-esque moments (dancing the robot in 2012? Really?), the throwaway and slighter gags have a real echo to them, with terminology such as “manpanzee”, comparisons between peg-legged pirates to chairs and cupboards and an atom bomb-wielding 19th century scientist wandering around in the background providing genuine laughs. And any film that casts Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria as its antagonists is never going to be wholly unlikeable. Others contemporary figures also make appearances, with Jane Austen Joseph Merrick and Victor Frankenstein all showing their faces in an attempt to enrich the skewed Victorian London in which the films second act takes place.
Missing the excitement of Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin and the magic of Hugo, it’s an unfortunate lack of heart that is The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists most glaring omission, which is quite odd considering the passion involved with the process behind the making of the film.