'Pirates! Band of Misfits': Miss for kids, hit for parents
Ahoy, all ye pirate fans. The new stop-motion 3-D pirate flick is coming ashore, opening in theatres everywhere today.
And Aardman Animations (in partnership with Sony) will undoubtedly attract repeat fans to "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" after hits such as the Wallace and Grommit series and the recent Arthur Christmas, which my family loved so much it will lead the car-DVD rotation next holiday season. But parents should think twice about the maturity level of their little mateys before boarding this CG adventure.
The premise is suitable enough. A bumbling if not overly dapper "Pirate Captain" (voiced by Hugh Grant) leads a band of lovable misfits on a quest to gain enough booty to be dubbed "Pirate of the Year," and take down his super-pirate nemeses (voiced by Selma Hayek and Jeremy Piven). Along the way, he encounters a lovesick Charles Darwin who greedily conspires to steal the Pirate Captain's team mascot, a dodo bird named Polly, and this becomes the plotline that hijacks the action.
But the plot falls flat in the characters' underdeveloped ambitions, instead relying on scenic gaggery and an impressive deluge of pop culture and historical references to keep the ship moving. In this realm, it succeeds, but most of its adult-witted humor will sail over a younger audience's heads. And gratefully so, as many of the punchlines are bawdy, sultry, or otherwise inappropriate for the under 10 crowd (there are repeated gags with innuendo including a flash of a "naturalist" colony). The adult-directed humor in The Pirates certainly prevails over slapstick adventures that normally keeps a younger audience engaged in such tales.
Fans of British humor will appreciate the film's subtleties, but many of the asides are completely missed if you tune out or look away for even two seconds -- which could possibly lead to DVD sales for a second pass. In a curious move, the all-star line-up of actors' voices are nearly unrecognizable, a seeming waste of the above-the-line budget and talent used in this feature.
The theme that friendship trumps riches and fame drives the plot, and children may also pick up the sideline message of realizing one's self-worth (as sought by the Pirate Captain, Darwin, and the Queen).
The film drew significant boisterous laughter from the adults in the audience, but I couldn't help but notice few guffaws emitted from my pirate party, which included my children, spanning the ages 4 to 11. Their weigh-in:
Gracie, 4: "I thought some of it was scary." (She covered her eyes twice, and no laughs on her part as it was all over her head.)
Blake, 6: "It was nice that they learned that people or bird friends are more important than money."
Gavin, 9: "It was pretty good, but I didn't get a lot of the jokes."
Alex, 11: "I think it was intended for kids around the age of 9. But a lot of the humor was more appropriate for adults."
So while adults will certainly get a good chuckle out of "Pirates!," some kids may prefer to hang out on the plank.
To the filmmakers who may have overlooked the comprehension level of their intended audience, a quote from the film could have been better heeded: "You can't just say 'Aargh' at the end of a sentence and think that makes everything alright."
Related: Review by Roger Moore
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Autumn McAlpin is a local writer. In addition to writing weekly about family entertainment, she pens an OC Moms column called Cracking Up, in which she chronicles her crazy life as a mother of four.