The rowdy, boisterous buccaneers of 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' are the most civil and considerate bunch you'll ever meet. This cheerful crew of scalawags is an inexperienced ragtag group who really love Ham Night and don't quite possess the imagination for creating fearsome names for one another. The Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin) and Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) are more like oddities than terrifying plunderers while Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) works hard at remaining a mystery to others. The Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman) is the loyal second in command with a very nice scarf indeed. About the most violent thing you'll ever see from them is a disagreement over the best part about pirating: the cutlasses or the looting.
They're a naïve but absolutely lovable lot who think the world of their captain, the conveniently named Pirate Captain (voiced with splendid charm by Hugh Grant), and always emotionally supportive when he's feeling low, which is apparently often. Rubbing his self-esteem the wrong way lately is the annual "Pirate of the Year" competition, which he's been coveting for probably over twenty years but always failed to win. His opponents are a frightful trio of outlaws — Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Peg-Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry) — who are far better in the fine arts of pirating than the poor Captain's entire crew. They even possess a flair for elaborate, wonderfully dramatic entrances which leave everyone cheering.
Our affable band of sea dogs may not be endowed with similar talents for theatricality and showmanship, and even less for looting other ships roaming the Atlantic, but that's precisely what we like about them. Based on the first two books in The Pirates! adventure series by Gideon Defoe, who also adapted them for the big screen, these merry men of luxuriant beard admirers are a motley troop of outsiders amongst a multitude of outsiders. Their captain is the idealist, hopeful but generally misunderstood sort, a rather popular character type in many animated films of late, and dreams of being remembered as the greatest pirate that ever roamed the seas. To prove he has what it takes, his crew stumbles upon a chance meeting of Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and his amusingly clever "man-panzee." When Darwin explains the slightly-overweight, big-boned parrot Polly is in fact the last living dodo on the planet, the captain sees the opportunity for untold riches which would make him a shoe-in at the Pirate competition.
This is an underdog story of a different sort, a familiar tale told in another manner, seen it all before yet completely new and fresh. It's with pirates after all! We've never seen that now, have we? The ending is as clear as the edge of the horizon in sunset, but the voyage getting there is an absolute riot, pushed along with many misadventures involving a terrifically comical contest of scientists and a bathtub slide down several flights of stairs. There also the usual hard lessons learned for the little tykes, such as companionship, being part of a crew of pillagers and plunderers, loving your inner pirate and realizing the sea-faring life is a joy all unto itself. Along the way, the Captain and his crew cross swords and exchange some very hurtful words with a scarily furious Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who doesn't hide her discrimination of pirates in the least.
'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' is set afloat by the fine artists at Aardman Animation, the same team best known for Plasticine characters Wallace and Gromit and the fantastic poultry adventure 'Chicken Run.' Partnering with Sony Pictures Animation, the British studio brings their signature stop-motion clay animation style with remarkably striking detail, arresting the imagination with every character's fluid movement and a distinct uniqueness in each of their attire. Director and co-founder of Aardman Peter Lord keeps the wit and humor high at all times, maintaining the frame as just the right distance for us see the emotional expressions on characters' face while also taking in the tiniest feature in the background. The animated screwball comedy is probably the best swashbuckling journey through science and history we've ever seen. To paraphrase one of the mates, this is the most educational pirating adventure yet.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' to Blu-ray in two combo pack options, both of which include a DVD-9 copy of the film. For this review, the two-disc pack with a Region Free, BD50 disc comes with a glossy slipcover and a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The package also includes information for entering a contest to win a Jamaican getaway for the whole family and a code for PS3 owners playing 'Little Big Planet 2.' A series of skippable trailers kick things off before greeting viewers with an animated main menu with the sounds of the ocean playing in the background.
'The Pirates!' drop anchor and wash ashore with a spectacular reference quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture displays flawless, spot-on contrast and clean, crisp whites, revealing remarkable razor-sharp clarity into the far distance. Black levels are inky rich and intense with precise gradational details throughout, from Black Bellamy's beard to the night skies with a full moon in the background. Low-lit interiors also show deep, dark shadows permeating the screen and adding a terrific three-dimensional feel to the video. The color palette leans more towards the softer pastel hues, and they're rendered beautifully with bold warmth and a bright glow. Primaries also remain accurate and energetic from beginning to end.
The talented blacksmiths at Aardman Animations have also supplied this animated vessel with striking details in every frame. Whether we're looking at the elaborate clothing of the pirates or the staring at each line in their glorious beards, the high-def transfer exhibits stunning definition. The tiniest buildings on the tropical hills of Blood Island are as clear as those in those in the foreground. We can make out every individual brick, stone and store-sign amid the foggy streets of London. Inside Pirate Captain's quarters, each picture hanging on the filthy walls is visible while every stain, smudge and splotch smeared over the wooden planks making up the room as well as the ship is distinct and distinguishable. In the end, 'The Pirates!' is a bountiful feast for the eyes on Blu-ray.
For the audio, the most civil pirates you'll ever meet dispense with the pleasantries and jump right into some brilliantly cheerful chanteys for the whole family to enjoy. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a mostly front-heavy affair but squeaky-clean with wide imaging and lots of amusingly subtle activity in the background. Dialogue is precise with clear intonation in the vocals, which quickly change from gleefully buoyant to frightful hysteria without missing a beat. Dynamic range is extensive and room-penetrating, providing distinct clarity to the swashbuckling action. Bass is mostly deep and impactful with excellent response, and a few scenes of explosions and rumbling exhibit great moments of powerful low-frequency effects. They're not dramatically intense, but fun nonetheless.
Rears speakers are for a majority of the movie's runtime silent, which is somewhat disappointing, but the occasional ambient effect keeps the lossless mix entertaining. However, the action sequences come with a few sounds which pan from the screen into the back of the room with fluid movement and appreciable directionality, nicely expanding the soundfield and providing a couple bits of envelopment. The musical score of Theodore Shapiro and the several song selections make better use of the surrounds, spreading throughout the room and creating a more satisfyingly immersive experience. All in all, 'The Pirates!' pillage and plunder with agreeable rowdy mayhem on Blu-ray.
Two of the supplements are shared with the Blu-ray while the other two can only be found on the DVD disc.
From Aardman Animation and the director of 'Chicken Run,' Peter Lord, 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' is the latest animated screwball comedy from the British studio about the most civil and considerate bunch of buccaneers you'll ever meet. With a terrific cast of voice talents behind each character, the film is a clever and witty swashbuckling adventure through science and history. The Blu-ray sets sail with reference quality video and an excellent audio presentation. With a healthy assortment of supplements that will entertain both young and old, the high-def package is recommended for animation lovers everywhere.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.