Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

1 Nomination, Wins To Be Determined

Nomination: Best Animated Feature Film - Peter Lord

In the New York Times "And the Nominees Should Be..." article, in which the paper's film critics named their choices for the nominations for the major Oscar categories, Manohla Dargis bestowed imaginary nominations for The Pirates! Band of Misfits for Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Grant) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Gideon Defoe).  I was surprised, to say the least, by this recognition to a movie that I was only vaguely aware of and had mentally jumbled with the VeggieTales movie The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.  I made a mental note that perhaps the film was worth watching on cable in the future, but after the film received an Oscar nomination and I learned that it was produced by the wonderful Aardman Animations, I stopped by my local Redbox and paid my dollar to see whether Manohla Dargis is as crazy as I suspected.

While I believe that Dargis's praise for the film is overblown and that the Academy rightly limited the film to its sole nomination in the Animated Feature category, I was pleasantly surprised by what was an enjoyable and clever, if not terribly unique film.

The Pirates! is the story of The Pirate Captain's (voiced by Hugh Grant) efforts to win the Pirate of the Year Award, a title for which he is woefully unqualified (his only previous award was for Best Anecdote About a Squid).  The Pirate Captain undertakes a harebrained scheme to win this award, but he finds that he must decide if he is willing to give up what is most important to him to win the award. If this plot sounds familiar, it could be because it is a nearly exact copy of Wreck-It Ralph, and at times it feels as if the two tales are two variations from the same Mad Lib (Main Character: Pirate!  Video Game Villain!...Object of Desire: Trophy!  Medal!)

Yet even though the plot is simple, the film contains much of the unexpected and unusual humor that has made Aardman's previous efforts so wonderful.  The inclusion of a young, hopeless, and rather pathetic Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) is a great addition to the cast of pirates, and Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton) might be the best film villain of the year.

The Animated Feature category this year consists of five big studio films, a shift from the Academy's recent recognition of more independent animated fare (Chico & Rita, A Cat in Paris).  The Pirates! Band of Misfits is very much in the tradition of the standard animated story structure, and it sticks to the structure well to tell a nice, neat story.  The film is at its best when it allows itself to be a bit off-the-wall, and it could have benefited from more of these moments.  Still, The Pirates! is a breezy, enjoyable hour and a half, and I can only imagine that it is far superior to its similarly titled VeggieTales counterpart.

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