Aardman is quintessentially British. A UK-based animation house, their work with plasticine shows how old-school animation can be done properly. Following the lukewarm reception of computer-generated features Arthur Christmas (2011) and Flushed Away (2006), Aardman have come back to stop-motion animation with their latest offering: Pirates! in an adventure with Scientists.
Based on the first of two books from comedy writer Gideon Defoe, the story follows the ambitious (but quite lacklustre) Pirate Captain on his quest to win ‘Pirate of the Year’ while clashing with Charles Darwin about his not-a-real-parrot Polly and more notably, Queen Victoria. She hates pirates – FACT.
What’s wrong with it? Well, the plot line is a bit too predictable. You can see what is coming from a mile off and lacks a surprising element that is missing from most animated films. Plus the film needs to be longer.
The reason why is simple: Aardman is one of the very few film studios that can do no wrong. Their tradition in being British through and through is to be admired and instead of being flash with the special effects (yes, they can also exist in animation!), they have kept it real and concentrated on the key points to their films – the characters, dialogue and in-jokes (of which, there are a-plenty).
The characters and story are charming that it is easy to get swept up in the whole sea-shanty-singing doo-dahs. Reminiscent of the popularity generated from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Pirates! ticks all the boxes when it comes to wit, mannerisms and comedic effort. The results are gigglesome to say the least, thanks to director Peter Lord and the screenwriter (and story creator) Defoe.
Hugh Grant, voicing the Pirate Captain, puts in a great performance as the self-confident and ambitious leading protagonist with Sherlock‘s Martin Freeman and Doctor Who‘s David Tennant as the metaphorical angel and devil of the Captain’s conscience – Freeman pulling him towards the pros of being a pirate and Tennant offering an opportunity to fame and money from his beloved Polly.
The animation – a return to stop-motion while using Digital 3D for the first time – is wonderful to watch. It is great to see this form of animation make a come back after Wallace & Gromit. The slight plot twist is a bit strange – it has a different ending compared to the book – but it accommodates an entertaining fight scene, which is always good in Play-Doh.
The result is a hurrah for the return of Aardman’s finest. Easily their most enjoyable film since Wallace & Gromit.