When a film blasts off to the sounds of Swords of a Thousand Men, I am immediately cheered beyond all reason. Throw in some London Calling from the Clash and mix in a little Blur and Pogues and I was instantly on to a winner with Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, the latest animation from Aardman’s Animations of Wallace and Gromit notoriety. As you would hope from a good comedy animation, Pirates! fulfilled its mission to please younger and slightly less young alike. I know I laughed outloud a fair bit while the teeny youngsters (between which and myself I’d wisely allowed about three dozen rows) squealed regularly. But, as I say, I had been coerced with a spot of Tenpole Tudor.
We’re all extremely familiar with pirates these days but the pirates in this film – that is, Captain Pirate, Pirate with Gout, Albino Pirate, Fish in a Hat, Number Two and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, to name but a few – are outpirated by that most wicked of all Victorians, Queen Victoria herself. Captain Pirate voiced, alarmingly convincingly, by Hugh Grant is determined to win the Pirate of the Year competition for the first time in 21 years. This isn’t easy when the only reward on your head is a couple of dragoons and a pen. And then there’s the competition, Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry).
So when Captain Pirate sets out to prove he is a worthy pirate and fails to find a ship to plunder with any more booty on it than Charles Darwin (David Tennant), there is only one thing for it. Darwin talks Captain Pirate into sailing to London to enter the Scientist of the Year competition to display Polly the Ship’s Parrot. This is because Polly is in fact a dodo, a remarkably placid and easy going fat bird that died out, allegedly, over 100 years before. In return the captain would be given untold booty, qualifying him perfectly to win the great pirate prize. It was all going so well until Evil Vicky (Imelda Staunton) decides that there can be only one owner of the last surviving dodo and it isn’t a pirate.
For ninety minutes or so, the viewer is transported into a world of subtle-ish jokes and utterly non-subtle sidesplitters. The slightly older members of the audience will enjoy the evolution and survival of the fittest jokes, the Edgar Allan Poe-ish elements to this 19th-century world and the character assassination of one of Britain’s most famous monarchs – this is no Emily Blunt Victoria. But everyone will laugh at the silly mix of shipmates, especially, for me, the pirate that looks more like a chair and the especially curvaceous pirate, plus the Pirate King (Brian Blessed) and the visual gags of the Manpanzee.
This film doesn’t have the pathos or added depth of other recent animations such as Despicable Me, Wall-E or Up, nor does it have the cuteness of Kung Fu Panda (my personal favourite) or the big laughs of Ice Age (the new one – Continental Drift – trailered before Pirates! and it looked hysterical) but it does present a pleasingly ridiculous tribute to three of Britain’s most famous contributions of recent centuries: Queen Victoria, scientists and pirates. However, the fact that this film has been renamed Pirates! Band of Misfits almost everywhere else suggests that only Brits find scientists amusing.