Graphic Language: None
Strong Sexual Content: None
Close to the beginning of Pirates: Band of Misfits, a wooden sign pops up in the bottom of the frame as the camera pulls back. As the camera pulls back even further, there’s a guy shown holding the sign, and he acts as if he’s been caught there, not supposed to be in the shot. He looks around embarrassedly then smiles and shrugs. Over half the audience will miss the joke, but its gags like these that are a staple of Aardman animation (you really have to look in the background to get most of them). Unfortunately, these are too few and far between.
The audience is introduced to the motley crew with a heated argument what over the best thing about being a pirate is—“It’s the looting!” “No, it’s the cutlasses!”—when the Pirate Captain (voiced by an almost unrecognizable Hugh Grant) kicks open the door. “It’s not the grog, or the scurvy, or the mermaids dressed in scantily clad outfits,” he explains, “The best thing about being a pirate is…Ham Nite!”
You realize immediately these pirates, for all their scalli-wagging and keelhauling, just aren’t very good at their chosen profession. After all, with names like The Albino Pirate, The Pirate With Gout, and The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (an obvious woman with a huge fake beard) one can imagine the canyon between real piracy and what this band does. Point in fact, the Pirate Captain’s parrot Polly is actually a dodo that he just claims is “big-boned.”
The Pirate Captain has lost the Pirate of the Year award every single year—which, in his logic, gives him an incredible chance to win this time around. The pirate with the most loot wins, and year after year it’s Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven). The Pirate Captain, up against such booty-liscious buccaneers as Cutlass Liz (a poorly dressed and disproportionate Selma Hayek) and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry), he realizes he must plunder and pillage every ship he can. After numerously humorous failed attempts, the Pirate Captain stumbles upon Charles Darwin’s ship. There, Darwin sees Polly…and schemes a plan to get the dodo to a Scientist’s Convention in London where he will not only get the recognition from his peers he deserves, he’ll finally get a girl to notice him. Because, of course, the only reason scientists invent anything is to get girls to notice them.
I wanted to like this movie, but found myself disappointed at several turns. The characters, for a 3-D plasticine, stop-animation movie (although this one’s computer animated, like Aardman Studios’ Flushed Away), were incredibly flat. The balcony-bottomed, gap-toothed Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) is an adversarial character from the first scene without any depth. The secondary characters, the Band of Misfits themselves, are all completely interchangeable—with the exception of The Albino Pirate (hilariously voiced by Anton Yelchin).
One thing that was the most disappointing was the design of the characters themselves. Aardman knows how to mold a nice British overbite, and characters from Wallace and Gromit and Flushed Away still had the bulgy-eyed, wide-mouth-full of teeth look that is classic Aardman. In Pirates, the characters look too real. The ridiculous look of the characters helps the ridiculousness of the dialogue (In Curse of the WereRabbit, for instance, a white-haired vicar with a huge overbite howls, “Be-ware. Beware the MOON!” as he points to another character hung on a weathervane with his pants half down and his rear end showing) but in Pirates, it comes across as not unique enough. It lacked the cleverness that previous Aardman Studio films offered.
There are plenty of opportunities for humor; jokes sail by like cannonballs across a bow, there’s a hilarious song about “I’m not crying” (listen for it, it’s worth it), and Charles Darwin’s impetuous monkey can only speak with cue cards. However, the latter is totally lost on the segment of the audience who can’t read yet. Pirates is funny, but in a “oh, that was a little clever” chuckle, and not a “I can’t wait to quote this line to my friends” belly laugh.
More than a few times I winced at some of the choices Aardman made with Pirates. There are several hand-drawn animated cut-scenes made to look like an old treasure map—however the mermaids on ye olde map aren’t wearing any clothes and can be clearly seen from the side. Charles Darwin and his intelligent monkey are central characters, and while evolution isn’t overtly talked about, other characters quip, “You two look awfully alike. Are you sure you aren’t related?” Darwin also uses the swear word for bottom when talking about covering up his simian companion’s rather large, red posterior. The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate is caught in a bathtub (covered with suds, but the implication is still there) during a crazy chase scene in Darwin’s house. It seems most of the jokes are aimed slightly above the kids’ heads, but instead of making the adults laugh, it just caused defeated looks between parents hoping their kids won’t get it.
The main conflict throughout Pirates: Band of Misfits is one of loyalty to friends versus fame and fortune. The Pirate Captain wants desperately to become the Pirate of the Year. So desperately, in fact, that he trades Polly to Queen Victoria for a pile of gold. Even though the dodo Polly is one of the crew, a trusted friend even to the point of being family, the Pirate Captain lets his desire for fame override his desire to protect a member of his band. Every one of us wants to be the one who’s “picked.” Everyone wants to know they’re important. The Pirate Captain wants to been seen among his swashbuckling sidekicks as someone significant; he wants his name to be known. We’re not much different. We want to matter. We want to be known. Maybe not as Pirate of the Year, but at least as someone important. For Christians, our identity is found in Christ. Sometimes, however, this can be a bit difficult, especially when up against our own hopes, dreams, desires, and goals. Do we want to be known as “that amazing writer for Sonoma Christian Home” or “that Christian”? 2 Corinthians talks about our identity in Christ. We’re to be God’s Ambassadors. We’re to be known as one of His, a divine diplomat. What we do isn’t as important as who we are…and often times we let what we do define us. We boast about him in us, not about our own works in the world. “If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.” It’s about his fame, his glory, and his name. Some questions to think about: • In what ways do you desire to be known? What’s it like for you to be the one singled out, chosen, set apart? What’s your “Pirate of the Year” award? • How does Christ fit in? What things about your Christian walk define you to others? • What things can you do this week to spread Christ’s fame?