Honestly, I’m not sure how to describe it. But I can say that “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is a wildly entertaining hoot that starts off silly and slowly sneaks into wilder, more absurd territory that manages to be both delightful and a little disorienting. It’s all complete nonsense, but it’ll make sure you have fun while you’re there.
Since it’s from stop-motion clay masters Aardman Animations, it’s also absolutely gorgeous to look at. The level of detail in everything is absolutely exquisite, and there are enough fun little touches right at the edges of most scenes that you don’t want your attention wavering for a minute (you also want to stay for every minute of the jam-packed credits, and try to read fast).
It’s so visually rich, in fact, that you could leave the movie deeply satisfied and not have listened to a single thing any of the characters were saying.
If you did that, though, you’d miss out on some of the best laughs. It would take most of the rest of the review to properly summarize the plot (and I doubt you’d think I was being serious) but the basics include a charmingly ineffectual and ham-obsessed band of pirates, a luxuriant beard, a couple of different prizes, booty (in the piratical sense), a parrot who’s not a parrot, loyalty, dastardliness, the elements listed above and the chemical reaction of vinegar and baking soda. For the record, this isn’t even a complete list.
The entire thing fits together like a table full of crashing, high-spirited billiard balls, colorful and knocking against each other in random directions.
There’s a joke or two in there you might not want to explain to the kids (the reasons are more to do with endangered animals than anything close to naughtiness, however) and a few things that surprised even my oddball mind into asking “What on earth possessed them to wedge that in there?”
But you’ll laugh more often than you won’t, whether it’s at the monkey’s speech cards, the sequence with the bathtub or Darwin’s tendency to get hit in the head at the most inconvenient moments.
Even when you’re not necessarily laughing – in a constant bombardment like this, some volleys don’t hit as squarely as others – the feeling onscreen is so infectiously cheerful it’s impossible not to get caught up in it. It’s remarkably hard to watch this movie and not enjoy yourself.
The voice cast has uniformly embraced the absurdity, from Hugh Grant’s Pirate Captain (yes, that’s the character’s actual name) to Martin Freeman (Bilbo in the upcoming “The Hobbit”) as the loyal and sensible first mate. “Doctor Who” fans will recognize Darwin (David Tennant, aka the 10th Doctor), and in general any previous affection for any of the voice actors transfers surprisingly well to their cuddly-looking clay selves.
If all that wasn’t enough, there’s even a message or two. Loyalty is more important than recognition. Beards are usually hiding something. Don’t waste your time chasing after something that doesn’t truly make you happy.
And if Mr. Charles Darwin tells you that those sea monsters are only there for decoration, don’t believe him.