Movie review in the Friday, April 27 Oregonian....
This isn't even a criticism, exactly, but the only real charge a viewer might be able to level against the new Aardman Animations film "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is that it's better at being droll than laugh-out-loud funny. The spirited voice work, morbid throwaway gags, inventive set-pieces, gleefully odd story, detail-choked production design and stunning marriage of stop-motion and computer animation more than compensate.
The film -- directed by Aardman vets Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt from Gideon Defoe's book series and screenplay -- was originally released in the UK as "The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists." We meet the Pirate Captain (voiced wonderfully by Hugh Grant) and his tiny, weird, loyal crew in a bit of a slump. They're more interested in fun and ham dinners than actual piracy, but the Captain's gunning for the 1837 "Pirate of the Year" award, so they try to step up their game. They highjack a research vessel carrying a young Charles Darwin (David Tennant) -- who realizes the Captain's "parrot" is in fact the last dodo bird in existence, prompting Darwin to try and steal it for the perfectly awful Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
What's best about "Pirates!" is that you never quite know where it's heading. It starts out as a fairly easy spoof of the pirate-movie tropes resurrected by Depp and Disney -- but quickly finds humor in everything from Victorian science to awards shows to Jane Austen and Elephant Man cameos to extreme food snobbery while mostly avoiding the easy pop-culture gag. Darwin's civilized chimpanzee sidekick, who communicates exclusively through flashcards and deadpan looks, will be a big hit with kids. Be sure to stay through the end credits, in which the punny signs, silly paintings and absurd knickknacks that filled every inch of this movie's backgrounds are laid out in an endless, awe-inspiring scroll.
(88 min., rated PG) Grade: B
'Pirates! Band of Misfits' (The Oregonian, Friday, April 27, 2012)