The Pirates In an Adventure With Scientists

Fri, Mar 30, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Peter Lord. Voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Brendan Gleeson, Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed PG cert, general release, 88 min

This vastly entertaining Aardman comedy will encourage a big smile from even the unjolliest Roger, writes TARA BRADY

AVAST! MAKE smartly for the picture house.

It’s 1837 when the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and his mostly slow-witted crew sink Charles Darwin’s vessel the Beagle. The Pirate Captain was hoping for gold. He was hoping to win Pirate of the Year from swarthy rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).

But the captured scientist may have an alternative plan. Can the pirates really trust landlubbers like Darwin (David Tennant) and his monkey butler, Mr Bobo? Why do they keep eyeing Polly, the ship’s parrot (who is actually a dodo)? And will the crew evade the dastardly, pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton)?

The world would surely be an infinitely better place if, like this cumbersomely titled movie, all films were to feature monkey butlers. A suited and slicked simian who combines the eye-rolling talents of Wallace’s Gromit and a seemingly endless series of amusing written exclamations and witticisms, cinema’s newest monkey butler is instantly one of Aardman Studios’ most appealing creations.

The Pirates, too, are decent company. Remember when everybody found Hugh Grant charming? His Pirate Captain, a decent-minded, ham-loving, occasionally stammering adventurer, recalls the cuddlier, earlier Hugh Grant of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Sense and Sensibility. In the same spirit, the crew seem to distil everything we love about Brendan Gleeson, Martin Freeman and Brian Blessed into a series of “arrrs” and shivering timbers.

All-ages jokes arrive sharp as a scabbard and at ramming speed, though the screenplay, adapted by Gideon Defoe from his own comic novel, can’t quite match Curse of the Were-Rabbit for invention. Yet the loving, thumb-printed claymation and an anarchic spirit mark this out as top-flight Aardman, over and above the comparative disappointments of Chicken Run and Flushed Away.

Still, it’s hard not to puzzle over the movie’s bizarre and inappropriate depiction of Charles Darwin as a lecherous incompetent. It’s offensive, but much worse: it’s just not as funny as everything else. The monkey butler, on the other hand . . .