Ever since Wallace & Gromit’s “A Grand Day Out” Aardman Animation Studios have developed a reputation for being one of the most consistent British producers of TV & Film working today. The two characters that made their name are such national treasures that a mention in the House of Commons recently elicited rapturous applause on both sides – finally, something we can all agree on, it seems. Predictably enough, their latest film “The Pirates in an Adventure With Scientists” is a beautifully made and undeniably hilarious jaunt that ranks up with their finest work.
The Pirate of the Year awards are fast approaching and The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is preparing his application. However, after being publicly humiliated by his plundering peers he has a mini career crisis and considers jacking it all in. Even when he’s convinced into sailing on by his number two, aptly named, Number Two (Martin Freeman), he finds no luck. That is, until he stumbles upon a young upstart scientist, some bloke named Charles Darwin, who tells him that his beloved parrot Polly is actually the last remaining Dodo. Having been promised a boat load of cash the captain and his crew travel with Darwin to London to present Polly to the Royal Academy. However, London is ruled by the tyrannical, pirate hating Queen Victoria, and so the Pirates will have to read carefully, or else face the gallows!
The film is sprinkled with delightfully funny characters, each one bringing its own thing to the party. The Captain in particular, voiced by Hugh Grant in what was certainly the role he was born to play, is half swashbuckling terror and half bumbling idiot, and the banter between him and his crew is gold. Martin Freeman again proves himself the perfect foil to a charismatic leading man as the cautious Number Two. Nearly stealing the film away from them are Darwin and the Queen, who Aardman in their infinite wisdom and unceasing genius, have chosen to re-imagine as a nervous loser who just wants a girlfriend and, well, a complete bitch.
It’s the attention to detail that makes Aardman so loved. They see every inch of the frame as the opportunity for a joke, so many you’ll never find them all on one viewing alone. The historical and cultural references are always well placed too, as when The Pirate Captain queries whether Darwin and his pet monkey may be related. A tub-thumping score reminiscent of Irish influenced rock bands such as Flogging Molly or The Dropkick Murphys is also perfectly pitched, and perhaps inspired by Bret Mckenzie’s recent Oscar win for The Muppets Movie, a Flight of the Conchords song is included to great effect.
The only quibble one could have with this film, and it is frustrating to have to keep saying this, is the misuse of 3D. Henry Selick’s genius “Coraline” proved that stop motion animation is perhaps the best medium for this new technology, allowing you to feel the depth of the sets and fully appreciate the artistry at work. Unfortunately, there are too many gimmicks at play here, the kind that will sound the death knell for 3D if films continue to insist upon using them. Nevertheless, it doesn’t distract from the whole film which is destined to become a family favourite, and once again proves that after over 20 years Aardman are still shooting for the moon.
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists is released released in the UK on March 28th.