4 April 2012

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists Review

If you like Aardman - and let's face it, who doesn't? Apart from this prick... - then you've probably already made up your mind as to whether or not you're going to see The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists  - or 'The Pirates!', as I'm going to be insisting on calling it from now on, for the sake of my poor, over-worked fingers.

It's also - you'll be rather glad to hear - a foregone conclusion that you're going to love it.

Because once again, Aardman have produced a movie of such spectacular detail, of such sly wit, velocity and gregarious charm, that you simply cannot help but be swept along in the wake of a superlative script, tremendous voice work, and above all, triple-A grade stop-motion animation that will, on occasion, leave your jaw just a touch on the slack side.

The story goes that The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant, and yes, that's actually the character's name) is out to win the 'Pirate of the Year' Award. Only there's a snag - he's a bit of a rubbish pirate, no matter how loyal a crew he may have garnered, and he faces stiff, far more competent competition. After a run-in with Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who points out that the ship's 'parrot' is in fact the world's last living dodo, the pirates join him in a bid to win 'Scientist of the Year' back in London. Only things are complicated by Queen Victoria, who really, really hates pirates.

First up, there's an interesting contrast to be made between this film and Aardman's previous effort, Arthur Christmas. If anything, this is a rather clear argument that, at the end of it all, one should stick to not only what one knows, but what one does best. The difference in quality between the two films - both from different schools of animation - is astounding. Arthur Christmas was a flat, rather stale entry, with so-so CGI animation that lacks the soulful technical wizardry of Pixar opera or the goofy charm of Dreamworks' efforts. There was a vein of Aardman's trademark British humour, but it was mostly lost underneath the awkward sheen of the animation style.

This is entirely not the case with The Pirates! - the animation is their traditional clay-mation style, and it's never looked better than it has in this movie. Character faces are expressive, and both standard movement and the slapstick antics flow beautifully. There are a few moments of relatively low frame-rate, but it's never a distraction, and you'll be far to entertained to really notice it. There is also, of course, that lovely hand-crafted feel to the film - as Mark Kermode almost invariably extols: 'you can see the fingerprints!'.

Then there's the humour, and oh what humour it is - Aardman mastered the art of appealing to both kids and adults without segregating them years ago, and they continue to do it beautifully. There're a few naughty asides that are clearly aimed at the adults - 'Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate' being the crux of this particular matter - but the bulk of the humour is just pure silliness, and kids aged one to one hundred will get a kick out of Nick Lord's keen eye for slapstick action, as well as his anachronistic, anarchic sense of humour. There's also, of course, the sight gags, and literally every single frame has a joke in it - and not just one that may illicit a wry smile, but full-on belly laughs, should you be sharp enough to spot it. Personal favourite? A sign on a pub stating 'Live Sports: Urchin Throwing! Cockney Baiting!'. Giggled my socks off at that one...

Performances are great throughout too - Imelda Staunton deserves special mention for her fabulously over-blown performance as Queen Victoria - or 'Vicky' as The Captain wonderfully refers to her as. You can practically hear her bug-eyes scraping against the pop-guard, and it's all the better for it. The rest of the cast make good showings of themselves too, but it's a testament to the quality of the production that everyone - even Staunton - seamlessly blends in with the rest of what's going on - to pick anyone else out would be doing an utter injustice to the animator who painstakingly synced those tiny, plasticine models with the rapid-fire dialogue recordings.

A genuine marvel, this is a movie that literally anyone can go to see and get something out of. Funny throughout, and even occasionally moving, it's the detail of the humour that is so genuinely impressive. You can, of course, watch the movie on autopilot, absorbing the story, the action and the spoken gags, but this is to only see half the movie. Switch you brain even to half capacity, and you'll be laughing yourself literally red. See it with your kids, see it with your girlfriend or wife, see it with your parents...just bloody see it, already!