Thursday, May 17, 2012

animated pirates, yo ho ho!

Aardman Animation has created a wonderful stop-motion animated movie, The Pirates! A Band of Misfits, which proves that CGI is not the be-all and end-all of animation these days. Based on the equally enjoyable comic novels by Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists and The Pirates! An Adventure with Ahab, the film is not just funny, but actually beautiful to behold.

The crew hits port, L-R: Albino Pirate, Pirate with a Scarf, Pirate Captain, Suprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, and Pirate with Gout.
Hugh Grant turns in a stellar vocal performance as The Pirate Captain, a man with a luxuriant beard, but feeling a little out of the loop in the pirating world. He loves his crew, but is unable to remember their names, so they go by monikers like Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman), Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey), Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson), and Suprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen). His devoted crew supports him in his desire to compete for the Pirate of the Year award, against rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), and they embark on an adventure which takes them to Victorian England where they encounter Charles Darwin (David Tennant), Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), the Elephant Man, and other luminaries.

Kids will love the goofy characters, especially Darwin's "man-panzee" Mr. Bobo and the Pirate Captain's "parrot" Polly. Like Defoe's books, there is plenty of anachronistic and sophisticated humor to keep the adults entertained as well. Anglophiles will be amused to see a Pirate's yell being described as loud, louder, and Brian Blessed. Taking the joke even further, Blessed himself is on hand to provide the voice of The Pirate King.

Hugh Grant and his alter ego
But in-jokes aside, what truly makes the movie worth seeing is the amazing animation. Aardman did use computer graphics to enhance the look of the film, chiefly in backgrounds of the ocean and other scenery. Their attention to detail is evident in the stylized characters, their ship, and settings like a pirate's port and tavern, Darwin's house, and Queen Victoria's secret lair. Many hours went into creating the film:
"The first Aardman stop-motion movie shot in 3-D ...  a process that required 250 puppets, dozens of CGI backgrounds and an ornate, 770-pound plywood pirate ship with a bumper sticker on the back that reads 'Honk if you’re seasick.' 
Stop-motion is a notoriously arduous process that requires animators to manipulate a puppet’s movement frame-by-frame — a typical pace for the 33 animators on The Pirates! was to shoot six seconds of footage a week. 
'No one’s amazed by anything anymore,' said [co-director Peter] Lord. 'This slightly old-fashioned idea of stop-frame somehow brings the wonder back.'" — Kansas City Star
And a wonder it is. Happily there is already talk of a sequel. The characters in The Pirates! Band of Misfits are wonderful, and Defoe will soon release his fifth book in The Pirates! series, The Pirates! An Adventure with Romantics, so there should be plenty of opportunities for the Pirate Captain and his crew to go on many more adventures together.
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