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Silly pirates with feet of clay

5/3/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

“The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is now playing in theaters.
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
Pirates, those vicious gangsters of the high seas, are back for another kid-friendly adventure. The portrayal of pirates as lovable scamps never ceases to amaze me. They’re called cutthroats. Why? Maybe it’s because they cut throats!

But leaving that aside, Aardman Animations’ stop-action “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is a bouncy, lightweight romp. It’s more successful than the studio’s previous release, the computer-animated “Arthur Christmas.” “Arthur” moved at the speed of Joshua Cribbs on the highway. “Pirates” has its action sequences, too, but the movie is more interested in Pythonesque British silliness.

The buccaneer known as the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) is not the most bloodthirsty pirate on the 19th-century high seas. Nor is he the most observant. One member of his crew is female with a long phony beard, and his “parrot” is definitely a nonparrot, though what it actually is will take some time to discover.

The Captain’s focus is on winning the annual Pirate of the Year award. Determined primarily on who acquires the most booty, the Captain believes he has a chance, though his competition (which includes pirates voiced by Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek), seem to have a peg leg up. It will take a big score, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that all the ships crossing his path are bare bones. In the case of the ship full of nudists, the expression can be taken literally.

The devoid-of-clothing ship is just one of the many sight gags in “Pirates,” which is based on a book by Gideon Defoe. Some are hidden in the background (a sign on a London building advertises something called “Urchin Be-Gone”) while others, like a monkey who communicates with small signs, take center stage. The humor wouldn’t be out of place with the pirates’ Ping-Pong-ball-eyed kindred spirits, the Muppets. In fact, Kermit & Co. did their own pirate tale with “Muppet Treasure Island” in 1996, and both “Pirates” and the Muppets’ recent movie benefit from music written by Bret McKenzie of the band Flight of the Conchords. (“Pirates” includes a great Conchords song, “I’m Not Crying,” co-written by Jemaine Clement.)

The movie, directed by Peter Lord, gleefully defames the characters of Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who are both involved in the plot. The story offers some lessons about what you must sacrifice to obtain your dreams and the importance of loyalty, but mostly it’s 90 minutes of goofiness for kids not yet ready for “Monty Python.” Youngsters will learn a bit about Darwin, but except for instructions on how to make a kitchen volcano, the movie is not a wealth of scientific information. They won’t even learn much about biology — the naked guys and gals on the boat are discretely covered.

The movie, currently in theaters, is rated PG for mild action, rude humor and some language.

*** (out of four)

Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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