The Pirates! is Aardman Animation’s first full length claymation production since the superb Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit and it is good that the Bristol outfit have cracked out the plasticine again.
The Pirates! follows the rather inept ‘Pirate Captain’ as he aims to become Pirate of the Year. With his rag-bag crew and vicious opponents it seems unlikely that the Pirate Captain will ever win, but following a meeting with the botanist Charles Darwin a plot is unravelled that just may lead to him succeeding in his aims.
The Pirate Captain is voiced by Hugh Grant and the animators have certainly put Grant at the centre of the Pirate Captain’s performance, it is all bumbly mishaps and uncomfortable speeches. The rest of the crew are made up of voice performances from Martin Freeman, Russell Tovey, Brendan Gleeson and Ashley Jenson and the range of characters allow Defoe to adapt his own novels to exploit every pirate based pun and stereotype to full advantage.
Further obstacles for the pirates come in the shape of Queen Victoria, played by a regal Imelda Staunton and fellow pirates played by Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed and Salma Hayek. These actors have been well cast to bring the necessary expression to the voices, allowing the animators chance to fill the screen with large characters and colourful action sequences. The interplay between the characters is fresh and lively and scenes between Grant and David Tennant (voicing Darwin) show both performers enjoying themselves creating challenges for the animators.
The animations is superb, the skill with which Aardman create their works is clear to see and it is great after a run of computer animated features to see the return of the hand crafted and the thumbprints. CGI is used here, but where it is it is to compliment the modelled animation not to replace it. Sequences on the ocean cannot be easy to create in an animation studio but here they are delivered with style.
The joke count is not as high as it has been in previous Aardman films, although the back of shot jokes still come thick and fast. The storytelling is pedestrian and predictable once the premise has been introduced and the climax brings nothing new to the now well worn, Aardman third-act chase sequence. The Pirates! is a wide ranging series of books and although this plot straddles a couple of adventures it may have been worth digging deeper into the canon to bring more thrills and spills to pick up the pace of the narrative.
Aardman prove again that they are the world’s best claymation animators but they need to remember that it was not just there skill with the play-doh that got them this far, they have been hilarious in the past, this film is just funny.