Though presented in 3-D and likely marketed seven ways to Sunday, something at the core of “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is willfully, defiantly and wonderfully old-fashioned.
First are the pirates, as much a part of movie history as film stock, from many adaptations of “Peter Pan” and “Treasure Island” to characters the likes of Errol Flynn in “Captain Blood” and Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Then comes the handmade, stop-motion animation, courtesy of director Peter Lord and Aardman Animations, the company that produced “Wallace & Gromit” and “Chicken Run.” Gorgeously detailed and elaborate, “The Pirates!” was built and manipulated, for the most part, by human hands.
Finally, there’s Gideon Defoe’s script, adapted from his novel, with an astonishingly high frequency of good one-liners and visual gags. If one flops, another comes along in just a few seconds.
The story follows Pirate Captain (wonderfully voiced by Hugh Grant). He’s a scourge of the high seas, famous for his unkempt beard and for “Ham Night” onboard his ship.
He’s much-loved by his delightfully named crew members: Pirate With a Scarf (voiced by Martin Freeman), Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin), Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen).
Pirate Captain wants to win a “Pirate of the Year” award. Unfortunately, his skills at nabbing booty are a little soft. But fortunately, the answer to his prayers lies with his parrot, Polly, who turns out to be the last of the dodo birds.
“The Pirates!” is the kind of sly movie in which Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) are the bad guys.
It’s hard to emphasize enough just how intricate it is, abundant with rich details, such as the funny newspapers and magazines the characters read to little strings of fat dribbling from a slice of ham.
At the same time, it’s also warmly human, with characters so expressive you’ll want to join the crew.
Despite an onslaught of pirate humor and allusions to things such as grog and sexy mermaids, the movie still snagged a PG rating; these pirates are no more vulgar than Errol Flynn.
If “The Pirates!” catches on with kids who want to see it 10 times or more, parents won’t mind watching, too.