Shiver me timbers! Aardman, the Oscar-winning British animation studio of “Wallace & Gromit” fame, is feeling a little wobbly this time out.
“The Pirates! Band of Misfits” hews to the same claymation look, the same round-shaped mouths and prominent teeth and the same campy and irreverent sensibilities the studio is known for.
But pirates, in this particular case, aren't as funny as absent-minded inventor Wallace and his more intelligent dog, Gromit.
Oh, it's a fine family movie, and younger kids are going to have a rollicking good time watching pirates who are not scary at all and who fail at their jobs a lot.
Adults may not be as entertained, though the movie includes jokes clearly intended for them. The average kid, for example, won't get the jokes about a cross-dressing pirate or “The Elephant Man.”
Sticklers might note that, though “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is set in 1837, the Elephant Man wasn't around for a few more decades.
But then, when one pirate gives another the hand signal to “call me,” it's clear the humor isn't persnickety about the time period.
“Pirates” centers on the Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant), a clearly second-rate plunderer of the high seas who wants desperately to win the annual Pirate of the Year Award.
Trouble is, his rivals are outclassing him. That includes Cutlass Liz (voice of Salma Hayek), who snagged a huge diamond; Black Bellamy (voice of Jeremy Piven), who rides in on a whale full of gold plunder; and the Pirate King, who clearly has more treasure as well.
When the Pirate Captain heads back to sea determined to do better, he hits an incredible dry streak, capturing an educational ship, a ship of plague victims, a ghost ship and a scientific expedition ship.
The last one, at least, contains biologist Charles Darwin, who recognizes that Pirate Captain's parrot is actually a dodo bird, which was thought extinct. Can the scientific prize money win Pirate Captain the Pirate of the Year?
Well, Queen Victoria (voice of Imelda Staunton), who loathes pirates, might have something to say about that. So might Darwin's pet monkey, who speaks only with flash cards but outsmarts humans as regularly as Gromit. And Darwin himself is determined to get the dodo away from the captain and claim the prize.
The animation was as terrific as ever, with incredible detail that often adds to the humor. And the action sequences are more than lively enough to satisfy the small fry in the house.
But the story and script just didn't feel up to past Aardman standards. It's not walk-the-plank bad. But it's not likely to win any Pirate of the Year Awards, either.
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