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Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant) sets out on a mission to defeat his rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) for the Pirate of the year Award. The quest takes Captain and his crew from the shores of Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London, where the Queen (Imelda Staunton) is a dedicated anti-pirateist.

Review by Louise Keller:
With all the whimsy, innovation, freshness and innocence that we have come to expect from Aardman, this latest piece de resistance from the makers of Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run and Arthur Christmas, is equally unique and charming. The claymation characters are immediately identifiably Aardman with their letterbox mouths and crooked teeth and their understated British sense of humour. Adapted from a book by Gideon Defoe, the film is a splendid romp liberally peppered with chuckles and crammed with surprises. The genius of the film is that it works on every level for every age. The 3D effects enhance without overwhelming the action and it's easy to ride high on the crest of the waves on which the pirate ship sails.

The ingredients are incongruous and irresistible. The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) may have an impressive and luxuriant beard that looks like coiled snakes, but he is not very good at plundering. He is never happier than sitting down at Ham Nite with his pirate buddies, his beloved parrot Polly on his shoulder. But his dream of winning the Pirate of the Year Award is greeted by ridicule from his more impressive rivals, each of whose entrance is more dramatic and impressive than the next. Black Bellamy's (Jeremy Piven) theatrical arrival, walking down the red-carpet tongue of a gigantic whale is a show stopper. But the story really hots up in this 19th century tale, when the Pirate Captain and his men come across Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who sees Polly, immediately identifies her as the last of the extinct dodos and his ticket to winning the prestigious Science Award.

Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), whose Royal Crest states 'I Hate Pirates' is a delicious villain; she wants the dodo for her own secret reasons and has no qualms about how she is going to get it. Darwin's side-kick ape Mr Bobo steals scene after scene communicating hilariously with title cards. (I like the scene when he opens the door to Darwin's home, wearing a monocle and carrying a tray with scotch and water.) Much of the humour is visual and the sight of the rotund Queen in various inappropriate situations is very funny. The combination of vinegar and baking soda also makes its impact with uncontrollably foaming froth.

It's unique, it's Aardman, it's a delight.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The trademark detail, mouths and teeth, and the trademark silly English humour are all there, albeit in less abundance than earlier Aardman work, and for a younger audience. The frequent use of slapstick works a treat for smaller kids, and the assorted fruitcake characters work for everyone.

Hugh Grant provides an English shape for the Pirate Captain, and his quest is nothing more than to win an award from his pirate peers. He's tried for 20 years without success and to be seen as a loser in their eyes is his biggest demon. But to win the award (a golden skull with a large garnet in one eye socket and cutlass through it), he has to at least show some 'booty' - which he is incapable of stealing. A humorous series of attempts at his boarding ships intent on robbing them carries the absurdist Aardman signature.

There is great attention to the production design, with comic little touches everywhere, from street names and other signs to the many animal references - both stuffed and alive. One of the several incongruous insertions is the King Pirate, whose bejeweled white outfit instantly registers on the Elvis scale.

The fun is divided between visual gags - like the ship smashing into port against a row boat, whose skipper surfaces at the wharf only to be smacked down again by the plank - and the adventure to save Pirate Captain's Polly. When they meet Charles Darwin, he identifies the much loved bird not as a parrot but the last of the extinct dodo, a valuable trophy to take back and show off to the Royal Society. Tempted by what Charlie calls 'riches', the Pirate Captain abandons his ship hunting and goes to London - despite the threat of Queen Victoria's wrath.

Much is made of the Royal Society awards night, and the choice between the Award (and its riches) and the pet bird. For adults, the film is perhaps a modest pleasure, but young children will respond to the cracking yarn with a simple message about doing what's right. There is intermittent use of 3D, which adds a touch of extra visual oomph, without being too obvious.

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Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2012)

VOICES: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Brian Blessed, Brendan Gleeson, Russell Tovey, Ashley Jensen

PRODUCER: Peter Lord, Julie Lockhart, David Sproxton

DIRECTOR: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt

SCRIPT: Gideon Defoe

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frank Passingham, Charles Copping

MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro


RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes



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