Film Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!

Ever since Wallace started inventing, Morph befriended Chas and we got introduced to the inner thoughts of those living in a zoo, Aardman Animations has constantly raised the bar for stop motion animation, creating a plasticine niche all to themselves. And with their medium of choice just a little time consuming in production, it has meant they have always been boxed into smaller shorts. Full feature length films making up a miniscule fraction of their impressive film history.

Whilst they may not be that familiarly on the big screen, to date they have only produced 5 feature films in a 40 year history, when they do venture towards it, it is usually with spectacular results. Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Arthur Christmas all rating over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, and while lagging slightly behind, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! can easily hold its own amongst them.

Modelling Figures - The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!

There is just something about the medium of plasticine that gives it a friendly approachable tone and nature. I think it may be down to the fact that nearly everybody played with it as a child and so, as soon as you see something created with it, you are instantly drawn back to that time; when life was simpler and the responsibility didn’t matter. Also, it’s a very tactile product and as a result, you instantly want to reach out, touch it, play with it.

Creating a film through stop motion, through physically manipulating each model for every shot there is something warm and engrossing about the finished visual result. It feels natural and living and therefore, draws you in and engrosses you more with the story than any cartoon or CGI animation can. There is a personality and depth to The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists that no computer can replicate.

And things just get better and better when you combine the visual delights of the film to the writing. Aardman’s greatest strength in my view has always been to write to a tried and tested recipe. Good versus Evil. Hero versus Villain. But the genius of their work comes from the fact they know how to layer it to capture and enthral the audience no matter what age. The hero is unlikely, the villain is unpredicted. The base idea simple. This style, wins over children by not over facing them, instead simply talking to them in the language they understand; but knowing that every child becomes an adult, Aardman sneak a second important layer, they add the little sublime touches, hidden jokes, movie references and one liners, designed to pass by the younger views but raise a knowing smile, a nod of appreciative happiness in every adult watching.

And that’s exactly what happens in The Pirates! A reference to pass the pigs, or a pirate with a Blue Peter badge, the fleetingly hidden moments of open cleverness take an entertaining film and raise it higher. Constantly giving and constantly revealing the more times you watch. The Pirates! never manages to break the 6 laugh test, the jokes constantly there but quick one liners that raise a chuckle as they fly past, but chuckle and chuckle and chuckle I did.

The Pirate Ship Green Screen - The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!

Sadly though, while visually there is so much to like about The Pirates! I couldn’t help but feel that on occasions there seemed to be a little over reliance on CGI to save the day. The film feels slightly removed from Aardman’s usual plasticine only philosophy and instead has shared the stage with some computerised backfill. I almost felt as though there was just a little bit too much green screen going on. And it just made things feel a little disjointed. It’s only a scene here, or a scene there but from time to time I felt the characters seemed to appear more as puppets on a set than people in a world.

I also found the voice cast a little divisive, I can’t really put my finger on why though, Hugh Grant is perfect as The Pirate Captain, his bumbling naive accent fitting like the proverbial glove, but there are times when I could just imagine him, in the sound booth: white shirt, blue jeans, floppy hair, sheepishly stammering over his lines, asking with shy embarrassment if he could “just redo that one”. David Tennant also manages to drop in, out and around, every part of the British Isles, sounding very natively Scottish before squealing into English then defiantly back over the border. And while it never really gets annoying, it meant I kept questioning my ears and the sanity that I was correct that it was in fact David Tennant.

Hugh Grant David Tennant - The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!

However, aside from a couple of minor irritants, I love The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!. I love Mr Bobo, Darwin’s butler Monkey, who without a single spoken line outshines every character in the film by a long, long way. And I love the fact, that even though i’s a basic story, it’s touched with class that means no matter how often you watch it, there is always something new to discover, and secrets to behold.

As part of Aardman’s back catalogue it will never hold the emotional sway of Wallace & Gromit, or the childhood memories of Morph, but The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists should never be overlooked, because it’s a real gem, just sitting there in a hoard of bounty, waiting to be plundered.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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