After the delightful CG holiday film Arthur Christmas, the Aardman studio group creatively applies the stop-motion animation technique with their trademark claymation and state-of-the-art effects from a series of books by Gideon Defoe.
Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt direct a rather uproarious ride in Pirates! Band of Misfits (whose opening has been delayed to get an early jump on a rival studio which has a bigger opening with Marvel to inaugurate a potentially sizzling summer movie season) with a sharp vocal cast including Hugh Grant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Brendan Gleeson, and Imelda Staunton.
Grant vocally matriculates with bravado and youthful verve through the desirous Pirate Captain. He's been losing out in an annual competition to opponents like Black Bellamy (Piven) or Cutlass Liz (Hayek) and is pretty crestfallen.
The humiliated bloke, though determined to capture what he feels he deserves, is sidetracked by scientist Charles Darwin, voiced by David Tennant, with a cute flashcard monkey butler. Especially when the noted researcher explains that his parrot Polly is the last of its kind. So, Pirate Captain is off to London with his crew, including second-in-command Pirate With Scarf (Martin Freeman), to receive a handsome bounty for his adored find. But, they don't know about pirate-despising Queen Victoria (Staunton).
While Tennant and Freeman may be a little on the bland side for some outside the U.K., Staunton has that amusing no-nonsense moxie about her. Piven and Hayek bring some distinction to their parts. More fun may be had with Gleeson as the Gout Pirate, Lenny Henry as Peg Leg Hastings, and Ashley Jensen's Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, one of the film's running jokes. One cannot forget Brian Blessed in a riotous, albeit brief turn as The Pirate King, but Grant's first vocal role in animation is surprisingly engaging because in part because he departs from his usual inclinations. The skilled animators manage to bring nuance to the sets and costumes while shrewdly plundering pirate lore.
Furthermore, Pirates! sparkles visually with some well-rendered action sequences (with unobtrusive use of the now-common 3D format) that rival those in a similarly fashioned Chicken Run as gags work off the Victorian period as well as the camouflaging ways of those brash buccaneers. Lord lords over his talented technical crew with enough fastidiousness to appeal to kids and adults, especially those fond of The Elephant Man. This Band of Misfits may be a mite giddy and deranged but the Plasticine figures on view often hit their mark to provide a highly enjoyable, even instructive family adventure to "laugh your booty off" at the multiplex.