DVD Release Date: August 28, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: April 27, 2012
Rating: PG (for mild action, rude humor and some language)
Genre: Animation, Family
Run Time: 88 min.
Director: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Cast: Voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson

Pixar’s brand of animation is heartwarming humor/adventure, DreamWorks revels in hyperactive cartoonery, while Blue Sky (Ice Age movies) and Illumination (The Lorax) land somewhere in-between. And then there’s Aardmann which is sort of off in a niche by itself: Claymated Sophisticated Silliness.

After their first successful diversion into CGI with Arthur Christmas—one that also had a softer/warmer tone of humor and heart—Aardmann returns to the quick-witted claymation they’re known for (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run) with The Pirates! Band of Misfits. In a movie marketplace where even the great animated offerings seem to have some level of mass audience calculation to them, The Pirates! feels like something the Aardman team made strictly for themselves—and it’s refreshing to be in on their feature-length lark, one that’s as skilled as it is carefree.

Yet even with its idiosyncratic style—both comedically and visually—The Pirates! remains an easily consumed treat for the masses. It has a constant energy to it, albeit a different one than Americans are generally accustomed to, fueled by an onslaught of dry cleverness rather than in-your-face antics. The result rarely has you laughing-out-loud, but its PG-level of Python-esque absurdity is entertaining in its own right and on its own terms. 

Absurd though it may be, it’s all anchored in a clearly-structured plot (which goes a long way in making the whole thing as accessible as it is). Set in the swashbuckling world of old, The Pirate Captain—yes, that’s the only name he goes by—leads a band of motley merry men across the high seas. All have the zeal for plundering and pillaging yet lack the knack for it.  

Consequently, the coveted prize of “Pirate Of The Year”—which goes to the buccaneer who clears more loot than any other—has eluded The Pirate Captain for two decades, and made him a laughing stock of the pirating world. So when a fortuitous encounter with scientist Charles Darwin leads The Pirate Captain to discovering that his overly fat parrot is really The World’s Last Dodo Bird (thought to be extinct), he sets his sights instead on award glory in the scientific realm.

The plan succeeds in entertaining fashion only to come up short in the prize department, which leads to a series of exploits that could finally garner The Pirate Captain the riches and recognition he’s long sought. The catch—and moral quandary—is that they would come at the price of compromising his close relationships and pirate ethics (such as they are). Indeed, despite the pirating context and how that is exploited for laughs and adventure, it’s the film’s lessons of integrity and loyalty that will resonate as takeaways for kids on how they should live.