From Britain’s Aardman Animations (the Oscar-winning team behind Wallace & Gromit and 2000 hit Chicken Run) comes The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2012), a brand new claymation escapade based on the off-the-wall book series by Gideon Defoe. Featuring the voice talents of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson, David Tennant and Imelda Staunton, Aardman and director Peter Lord have once again put British animation on the map thanks to an hilarious script and painstaking eye for detail.
Grant stars as the vain, narcissistic, yet lovable Pirate Captain, backed by a motley crew of drunks, albinos and cross-dressing women, who dreams of finally lifting the coveted Pirate of the Year Award. In his way stands a trio of big-name buccaneers – Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry) – as well as the all too disquieting fact that the Pirate Captain isn’t really a very good pirate at all. Despite this, and following a chance encounter between loner biologist Charles Darwin (Tennant) and the Captain’s rather unconventional parrot Polly, the preening piratical pretender and his loyal band of misfits head to London in search of fame and fortune – all under the nose of pirate-hating, maniacal monarch Queen Victoria (Staunton).
For young children and the young at heart alike, there is a lot to enjoy in Aardman’s The Pirates!. The sheer scale and depth of the production is astonishing, with nearly every frame concealing an ‘in joke’ or visual Easter egg (e.g. The Pirate of the Year form rates aspiring captains on their piratical laugh, with ‘Brian Blessed’ as the pinnacle – Blessed later cameos as the glittering Pirate King). In addition, the film often reaches near-Pixar levels of age-encompassing humour, with Grant, Gleeson and Russell Tovey all in fine comic form.
It’s easy to see why Aardman have become a national institution, even featuring in the recent UK budget announcement (with Tory Chancellor George Osborne stating, “we want to keep Wallace and Gromit exactly where they are”) over fears that the studio may be forced to relocate due to rising production costs. From the Monty Python-esque map animations to the Blue Peter badge that adorns the hat of a crew member, The Pirates! is an unmistakably British effort, with perhaps Aardman’s most broadly appealing content to date. Whether the US and other international markets fall hook, line and sinker for the film remains to be seen, but for UK audience at least, the wind seems firmly behind Lord and his rum-soaked comrades.