REVIEW: British humor keelhauls 'Pirates'

2012-04-27T00:00:00Z 2012-04-27T14:46:07Z REVIEW: British humor keelhauls 'Pirates'By Mathew DeKinder stltoday.com
April 27, 2012 12:00 am  • 

George Bernard Shaw once famously said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language. The same could probably be said about our collective senses of humor.

From the dry absurdity of Monty Python to the manic bawdiness of Benny Hill, British comedy (much like their food) is an acquired taste.

This is why I worry there is going to be a lot in the lively and well-made "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" that is going to get lost in translation.

This animated family-film from director Peter Lord, whose Aardman Animation studio has brought the world "Wallace and Gromit," "Chicken Run" and "Flushed Away," incorporates the Claymation style he's made famous with dynamic, 3D technology.

Visually "The Pirates!" is Lord's most impressive and ambitious film to date; however I'm not sure how many American kids are going to get excited about a movie with wry jokes about scurvy and cutlasses that features Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin as main characters.

Granted, I loved this stuff, but I'm a history nerd in my mid-30s, not exactly the target audience for a movie like this.

The story revolves around The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), a pirate so unremarkable he doesn't even have a proper name.

But in spite of his lack of success, The Pirate Captain does have a loyal and loving crew, led by his Number 2 (Martin Freeman), who wants to help their captain secure the coveted prize of Pirate of the Year.

Unfortunately, the competition is fierce as The Pirate Captain stands little chance against more formidable pirates with actual names like Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).

But The Pirate Captain's fortunes change when he happens upon the ship of Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who realizes that the Captain's beloved parrot, Polly, is actually the last remaining Dodo bird.

Promising riches and acclaim, Darwin convinces The Pirate Captain to bring Polly to London right under the nose of pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).

But Darwin's motives are not as they seem because he and his chimpanzee butler, Bobo (of course, Darwin has a chimpanzee butler!), are clearly up to no good.

Look, "The Pirates!" is a lot of fun, but even with its rousing climax (which may or may not have been stolen from the Marlon Brando, Matthew Broderick comedy "The Freshman"), the movie never kicks into that inspired, higher gear found in the "Wallace and Gromit" films or "Chicken Run."

I chuckled my way through this entire movie, but I did notice there were several kids in the audience who frequently lost interest. There is a lot to like about "The Pirates!," especially for those of us who watch a lot of BBC America.

But if you've got kids with moderate- to low-attention spans and are looking for a solid hour and a half of distraction, you'll probably want to sit this one out. If there's one thing we Americans have on the Brits, it's our ability to keep spazzy kids entertained. Take that Lord Byron!

"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is rated PG for mild action, rude humor and some language.

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