The Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) is a man with a mission. Yes, he has the loyal following of his crew who would do anything for him, but what he doesn't know is now the British Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) has ascended the throne, if there's one thing she hates, if there's one thing she wants eradicated from the High Seas, it's piracy, and she has ordered her Navy to stop at nothing to make that happen. Meanwhile, the Pirate Captain's crew may be arguing over the best part of their lifestyle, but he is more concerned with a particular award ceremony...
For some reason this Aardman Animation production was regarded as something of a disappointment by general audiences, but depending on who you spoke to it was for a variety of reasons. Maybe it was the jokes, which didn't tickle your funny bone, maybe it was the cavalier attitude to history, maybe it was the studio style was getting old hat, but whatever the reason there were a noticeable amount of people who took against it. One rather dubious explanation was that the inclusion of Charles Darwin as a character (voiced by David Tennant) riled the religious right who rejected anything to do with evolution in their entertainment, but given the man was sent up mercilessly here they'd have to be incredibly blinkered to take offence.
Doubtless some were, but for those who appreciated this adaptation of Gideon Defoe's children's books, scripted by the man himself, it was that very irreverence with regard to history and deliberately not paying tribute to towering figures of the past that was the appeal. Not a minute went by without some ridiculous item of humour, much in the house style, and for those who were aficionados of exquisitely rendered stop motion animation, The Pirates! was a feast for the eyes, popping with colour and detail so that one viewing would not do justice to the array of gags packed into the movie. Add to that a voice cast who were hired for their ability to bring the characters to life rather than stunt casting, and there was a lot to enjoy here.
Certainly it was so hectic that you could be forgiven for getting breathlessly left behind as director Peter Lord and his team plunged ahead with yet another setpiece, but it was obvious this had been designed to withstand multiple screenings, as so many family efforts were, so that if you did like it boredom was never a factor. That plot saw the misfit band of scurvy dogs trying to help their Captain (who doesn't have a name we hear) win Pirate of the Year, a tribute he is fully confdent he will achieve when he puts his name down on the application form, until three of his rivals appear ostentatiously and outshine him decisively without even needing to try very hard. Crestfallen after yet another ship boarding results in no booty to speak of, the Captain is on the brink of giving up for good and starting a baby clothes business.
That is until his final try garners an encounter with Darwin, who's on a research ship and lamenting his lot - when he sees the Pirate's parrot Polly he is uncommonly excited, not because he's never seen a parrot before, but because he's never seen a dodo before. All this time and the seafaring buffoons never knew they were sitting on a fortune all along, and now the decidedly unheroic Darwin (or Chuck, as the Captain names him) hatches a plan to take Polly back to London where she will be the pride of place at the Science Awards (lots of awards in this film). This fairly rockets along, with a gleefully silly sense of humour rather than any attempt at some dusty lecture so while you wouldn't be using it as a history textbook any time soon, the manner in which it uproariously plays fast and loose with the facts while still having integrity was very appealing. There was a lot of the Looney Tunes or Tex Avery to this, with a distinctly British flavour for personality, a beguiling mix. Music by Theodore Shapiro.