Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!

It must be nice to be an Aardman casting director - to know that, when you're making a silly little fun movie about a bunch of plasticine pirates fighting a plasticine Queen Victoria, you can not only get Hugh Grant and David Tennant for lead roles ("you should wind the Scottish accent back for this one, David, you're playing Charles Darwin"), you can get Salma Hayek to do a cameo alongside Lenny Henry, just because. (Of course, you've also got to schedule the recording of the Pirate King's scene for when Brian Blessed is free, as it'd be illegal to cast anyone else there.) Mind you, this being an Aardman film, you have to remember that it'll all be stolen by a wordless nonhuman character; Darwin's chimpanzee butler is no Gromit, but he does his best.

Anyway, being an Aardman movie, this is definitely enough fun to catch in the cinema, although you may also want to purchase the DVD, not for the Primer reason of having to work out what the hell was going on, but for the simple pleasure of freezing every frame to catch all the little visual jokes that the makers overdo at every opportunity. Whether there's more to it than that may be an open question. It is very silly, and laden with anachronisms of all sorts, mostly no doubt derived from its source material in children's fiction.

Like a lot of pirate movies, it has small pretensions to be about the end of an age of romance in the face of the onset of the modern industrial world - here symbolised by the contrast between the pirates' ship (a proper pocket galleon) and Queen Victoria's yacht (a rather magnificent steampunk creation incorporating the domes from the Royal Pavilion). But that doesn't really fly; the heroes' secondary foes are pirates who are even more old-school than themselves, they ally with Charles Darwin, and they make good use of an airship.

As I said, it's fun. I'm not sure that it's quite up there with Nick Park's best work for the company - perhaps the anachronisms, or the touches of outright visual surrealism, or the slightly plonking use of familiar songs on the soundtrack, jarred with me too much - but it had some good jokes and excellent visuals, and the celebrity voice cast were used well without dominating things too much. Clay and CGI are quite deftly merged, too. Just don't ask me what the ham obsession is all about.

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