The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists! (2012)
“Places to pillage. People to skewer.”
Director: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Cast: Hugh Grant, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven
Synopsis: Pirate Captain sets out on a mission to defeat his rivals Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz for the Pirate of the year Award. The quest takes Captain and his crew from the shores of Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London.
It seems as though Nick Park’s Aardman Animation only really scores when it concentrates on its signature duo of Wallace and Gromit. In 2000, the company produced Chicken Run, it’s first feature-length movie, and it was every bit as mediocre and disappointing as The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! The problem here is that, although they’ve selected a subject ripe with comic potential, the jokes and situations remain stubbornly uninspired. The voice casting of Hugh Grant as the hapless Captain Pirate must also be counted as a major mistake — he just doesn’t possess the right kind of voice for the role. The part didn’t necessarily have to be voiced by a stereotypically loud and blustery type, but someone like John Cleese, perhaps, would have made the Captain much more memorable.
Captain Pirate leads a loyal band of pirates, but he isn’t a particularly successful pirate. His wanted posters offer a reward of only 12 doubloons (and a free pen), while those for his contemporaries, such as Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) offer thousands. Pirate has entered the prestigious Pirate of the Year for twenty-five years running without ever winning, and determines that this time he will win it, come what may. Sadly, his attempts at plundering the high seas meet with little successful following a series of ill-chosen targets, one of which is the ship on which Charles Darwin (David Tennant) is cataloguing the species he has found on his travels. It’s Darwin who points out to Pirate that his overweight parrot, Polly, is in fact a dodo, a species believed to be extinct. The scientist offers to take the dodo to London and enter it into the Scientist of the Year award, deceiving Pirate into believing the reward is great riches, when it’s actually only a small cup and a set of encyclopaedias. Darwin actually wants the dodo to impress the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), on whom he has a crush, so that she can have it cooked for a meeting of a society that meets to eat endangered species.
Given their places in history, the young Queen Victoria and naturalist Charles Darwin are a strange pair to be chosen as movie villains, but presumably they were the bad guys in the Gideon Defoe’s novels. Defoe also wrote the screenplay for The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (even the title’s clunky), but his jokes aren’t funny enough, and the storyline not substantial enough to justify its feature length. The characters also lack the charm of Aardman’s more famous creations for some reason, and the decision to use computers to create much of the background also takes away from the unique look of Aardman’s other work. Even the numerous posters and signs that can be glimpsed in the background lack the quirky laughs of the Wallace and Gromit flicks.