Waiting for an Aardman film requires patience and understanding. With the advent of computer-generated animation, the wait has been reduced which leaves cinema-goers in the enviable position of having had two released within six months of each other. Arthur Christmas was a treat for the wintery season, but now we have a fully-fledged claymation film in the form of The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists. Based on the first of a series of books by Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! is the first clay-animated film from Aardman since Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
The annual 'Pirate of the Year Award' is fast approaching and Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is desperate to win. Constantly upstaged by far more impressive and successful pirates, he takes to the high seas to try and plunder enough booty to claim the prize. On one of his unsuccessful missions, he encounters Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who points out that the captain's parrot is in fact the last remaining Dodo. Tempting the captain with promise of wealth and riches if they sail back to London to present the bird to The Royal Society, they sail into the Thames. Acutely aware that Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) hates the pirates and wants to see them all killed, they must disguise themselves as scientists to claim the prize.
The voice acting in The Pirates! is superb. Grant does his best swashbuckling hero without-a-clue act, while Martin Freeman does the Martin Freeman performance of being nice and supportive. The rest of the supporting cast includes Brendan Gleeson, Salma Hayek and Ashley Jensen, all arghing and pirating their way throughout. The standout performances though come from Tennant as the useless, geeky Darwin, sure to raise some laughs from the southern states in America. It is his mute monkey butler though, whose use of sign-cards for speech, who takes a lot of the big laughs and remains consistently funny throughout. Unfortunately The Pirates! use of these gags, and that is the main problem with the film.
At a lithe 88 minutes, and a story that barely stops to catch its breath before throwing more and more gags at the audience, The Pirates! struggles to give enough time to everyone in the cast. This is not normally a problem for a comedy, but with so much care and attention to detail displayed in creating the wonderful characters, it feels a little mean not to give some of them bigger roles. This is a minor issue, and if the worst thing you can say about a film is that you wanted to see more, they're clearly doing something right.
Aardman Animation strikes gold again with The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists. It perhaps lacks the overwhelming charm and fully explored character appeal of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit it is funnier and should have a far broader appeal. With any luck this will be a big box office success that will lead to a more consistent release schedule similar to Pixar in recent years, because the wait for films of this quality is almost unbearable.
Rating: * * * * 1/2