Friday, 13 April 2012

Film reviews: 12 April

A hilarious cast, with an overweight ‘parrot’, rule the waves in this irresistible comedy

Written by Kat Brown


kat brown1-BWThe rule of thumb with Aardman seems to be the more handmade, the better the film. Wallace and Gromit's Plasticine outings enjoy national treasure status at Christmas, while the computeranimated Flushed Away and Chicken Run don't.

Some underwhelming 3D effects aside, their latest adventure is a lovely return to form. Set on a pirate ship populated by the motliest of motley crews, a suspiciously overweight parrot and a dashing captain, handily also called Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), who is intent on fi nally winning the Pirate of the Year competition.

The Pirates! is a treasure chest of beautiful animation and visual gags. Grant is unrecognisable from his old romantic lead roles: no stutters, no coyness, just a man having an absolute hoot. His luxuriantly-bearded pirate gleams with all the confidence of one who has a very capable second-incommand (Martin Freeman) to do all the actual thinking.

After some tragically unsuccessful attempts at plundering, the crew stumbles across Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Darwin is portrayed as a girl-mad saddo destined to die un-kissed, but he does at least recognise that Polly is in fact a dodo rather than a parrot, and persuades the pirates to come to London to enter her in Scientist of the Year, with the intention of stealing her himself.

In the grand tradition of Aardman, the best characters are those who never say a thing. Darwin's chimpanzee sidekick Mr Bobo mixes the skill of 007 with the long-suffering wisdom of Gromit. And Polly the parrot, the crew's beloved 'auntie with a beak' waddles around sleepily, like a zen Christmas turkey.

It would be lovely to see more of The Pirates! on the small screen, as the 88 minutes running time means much of it is taken up with Pirate Captain, and we only get glimpses of the hilarious crew and their obsession with ham.

Despite Darwin's thieving plans, the real villain of the piece is pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton channelling pure, poisonous girlishness). In a fi lm that's more jolly japes than upsets, she provides the few genuine scares, and the very small might find her a bit distressing.

The scares are more than outweighed by good humour. The smooth walking gait of royalty is explained by Queen Victoria keeping a Shetland pony under her bustle. The reigning Pirate of the Year arrives in the mouth of a giant whale, whose tongue unfurls to act as steps. As well as the end credits' masterpiece of visual gags (Mermaid's Monthly magazine, coverline: 'GIRLS! GIRLS! GILLS!') there are some lovely repeat jokes, particularly a long-suffering sailor whose destiny is always to be where the crew's anchor lands.

The one thing Pirates! misses is a really big laugh. On his Pirate of the Year entry form, Pirate Captain rates his roaring skills as Brian Blessed (who has a great cameo as the Pirate King); the movie is more gentle titter than all-out hilarity. It's a small criticism though for a film as beautifully made and as battily British as this one.             Kat Brown              



Book ahead


  • Twelfth Night, starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry, 2 November 2012 to 3 February 2013, Apollo Theatre, London: 0844-4829671, www.nimaxtheatres.com
  • In The Next Room, 10 May to 9 June, Ustinov Studio, Bath: 01225-448 844, www.theatreroyal.org.uk



  • My First Sleeping Beauty, Runs until 3 June, English National Ballet nationwide tour, various venues, www.ballet.org.uk



  • Prêt-à-Portea The Royal Collection, 29 May to 9 June, Royal hat-themed Tea at The Berkeley Hotel, London, 020-7107 8866, www.the-berkeley.co.uk

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