Yeah, it’s a kids film. And yes, I might have gone to see it by myself whilst I was waiting for my car to get it’s M.O.T. And just when I was thinking “this doesn’t feel that weird, actually”, the only other person in the cinema was a middle aged man, and suddenly, yep, it’s quite weird. Sigh.
But I had to. I bloody love Aardman. If you didn’t know, they’re the geniuses behind the Wallace & Gromit franchise and the constantly-repeated-by-BBC3-on-bank-holidays Chicken Run. Basically, they’re the British Pixar, and there is no higher praise than that in my eyes.
So, new film. Apparently it’s an adaptation of a kids book, although I’ve never heard of it. The story is that of the pretty useless Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) trying to win the “Pirate of the Year” award against some rather more impressive rivals (voiced by Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek and Lenny Henry, yeah I know one of these things is not like the others), but in the meantime is caught up in an adventure of romance, betrayal and Dodos involving the rather drippy Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and the enjoyable mental, pirate hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
Frankly, the plot doesn’t really come into it. The reason this film is so amazing (as with the other Aardman films) are the smaller details, the jokes that should never have been put into a kids film. I mean, what 8 year old is going to get a reference to the Elephant Man?! There are pun-tastic posters and shop names in the background, the aforementioned ridick references to old films and TV shows and then there’s just out and out comedy gold like Darwin’s monkey butler (Mr Bobo, credited as himself) that can talk using convenient cards. Both Mr Bobo and the Pirate Captain’s “overweight parrot”/dodo Polly continue the great Aardman tradition of silent characters that can convey more emotion and comic timing with one eyebrow raise than someone like Megan Fox can in an entire career.
The cast is fantastic. As well as Grant, Tennant and Staunton, the rest of the Pirate Captain’s crew is made up of Martin Freeman (giving his usual exasperated straight man routine that he’s been perfecting all these years), Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody from the Harry Potters), Russell Tovey (whom I adore) and Ashley Jensen (playing “The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate” who has a large ginger beard). Plus, and prepare yourself now, but the Pirate King is played by none other than BRIAN BLESSED himself. Amazing. (Not to readers, one must always spell BRIAN BLESSED in capitals. Very important)
Now, as for marking goes, I was going to give this a nice healthy four stars. Whilst very entertaining and one of the best kids films in years, it just doesn’t have enough proper out and out belly laughs in it for me to warrant a perfect score. However, during the obligatory “sad bit” when the hero seems to have lost everything before the final and triumphant third act, they soundtrack the “sad montage” with… well I’m not going to spoil it for you, but rest assured it is the greatest use of any song I have ever heard, and to use it in a film aimed at kids is nothing short of genius. That in itself means that I can award it: