This is a film for children, as you could tell by the (largely tedious, for this adult) trailers that showed ahead of it. (Shouldn’t a “trailer” actually follow something else?) There were, however, no kids in the audience of the noon showing that I saw. There were three or four very quiet adults. Why, you could hear a rat dancing!
Well, anyway. So this is a lot of light-hearted, goofy fun, as you’d expect from Aardman (purveyors of Wallace & Gromit and such). There are many funny quips, and the action sequences are exciting and funny too. The kid-friendly message of the movie — that if you make a bad decision and do something selfish, you can make up for it by doing the right thing — isn’t very interesting, but neither is it actively annoying. What counts for more is that the story is well-constructed, with one thing leading to the next and resonating back to the beginning, so that we move from the Pirate Captain entering the Pirate of the Year contest, which leads him to an encounter with Charles Darwin on the Beagle, which leads him to London for a scientific contest, which leads him to Queen Victoria, which leads him back to the Pirate of the Year contest, with unexpected results.
Still, the most interesting thing about this other than the funny one-liners and slambang action set-pieces is the way that Queen Victoria is used as the villain of the piece (and she really is a monster!) and that Darwin is a cad who can’t get a girl. The treatment of these legendary figures as despicable people and sadsacks (although Darwin ultimately redeems himself) is cheeky and refreshing. It seems like a very typical British attitude toward claims to greatness. Taking the piss, I guess.
There are a lot of clever names in the film, too, as with the pub called the Hook Line and Sinker. Stoners will have a field day with the end credits, which are teeming with textual and visual jokes that will no doubt repay close attention on home video. The one that stuck in my mind was a sign for Brown Slop Food (or maybe it was Brown Food Slop). I’m not sure what this means, but I took it for mockery of British cuisine of the era.
Finally I should note that it is a sad commentary on the decline of American (and apparently Australian) culture that the original title of this film is The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, but this was considered somehow unacceptable in the US (and apparently Australia). Is it considered too risky to mention science? Do American kids not appreciate the humor of throwing pirates and scientists together? I’m afraid that “a band of misfits” is a far blander, safer image altogether.