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The Pirates in an adventure with Scientists

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

Released 28 March 2012
Director Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt

Hugh Grant, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Martin Freeman, Jeremy Piven, Brendan Gleeson, Salma Hayek, Russell Tovey, Brian Blessed, Lenny Henry
Writer(s) Gideon Defoe

Julie Lockhart, Peter Lord, David Sproxton
Origin United Kingdom, United States
Running Time 88 minutes
Genre Animation, adventure, family
Rating G


After reasonable success with the computer animated Arthur Christmas, Aardman are back to what they do best, clay-based stop-motion animation. Aardman of course made their name with this type of animation, more notably on the Wallace and Gromit films. Now they’re looking to launch another successful franchise with a first adaptation of Gideon Defoe’s irreverent series of novels. Peter Lord, who made the less successful Chicken Run, is the director.

The story begins by introducing the band of misfits that make up the crew. There’s ‘The Pirate with Gout’ (Brendan Gleeson), ‘The Albino Pirate’ (Russell Tovey), ‘The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate’ (Ashley Jensen) and ‘The Pirate with a Scarf’ (Martin Freeman). They’re an odd but good-natured bunch and they are devoted to their captain, who is only known as ‘The Pirate Captain’ (Hugh Grant). He’s generally clueless but is kind-hearted and has a fine, luxuriant beard that he’s very proud of. He’s also devoted to his crew and in particular to the ship’s parrot Polly. Polly is a surprisingly large parrot, who doesn’t actually talk or fly, but the crew love and spoil her all the same.

The Captain is persuaded by his adoring crew to run for the coveted ‘Pirate of the Year’ award, which is given for the pirate who has accumulated the biggest pile of bounty. However he faces stiff competition from Peg-Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and especially Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) who’ve all amassed serious fortunes. Humiliated by his rivals, the Captain decides to hit the high seas to amass his bounty but his efforts quickly fall flat. Eventually he comes across a ship containing a group of scientists led by famous palaeontologist Charles Darwin (David Tennant).

Darwin recognises that Polly is no parrot but is instead a Dodo, a species supposedly extinct for 150 years at that point. Darwin persuades the Captain to accompany him back to London so that he can present the discovery at the scientist awards. He’s hoping that this will impress Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) who he’s secretly in love with. The Captain agrees to go, believing that winning the scientist’s award comes with a prize of great riches. However he’s double-crossed by Darwin and Queen Victoria turns out to a pirate-hating super-villain.

This is a hugely enjoyable romp, full of gentle, off-beat humour that is typically Aardman. The voice performances from Hugh Grant as the Captain, Martin Freeman as his first mate and Imelda Staunton as a psychopathic Queen Victoria are all top-notch. In the support cast, Brendan Gleeson and Russell Tovey get some great one-liners too. There’s also a hilarious character in Mister Bobo, a chimpanzee Darwin has trained to be his butler who communicates in hand-written notes.

It does seem strange that they chose to bring in Hollywood stars Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven for such small roles though. Perhaps those characters will feature more in the sequels they’re obviously hoping for.

Overall this is great fun and it should keep the children more than content during the Easter break while making the accompanying adults chuckle away.

- Jim O’Connor