Director: Peter Lord. Starring: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Brendon Gleeson. Rated: PG. Running time: 127 minutes.
A jolly good time is had by all who fly the Jolly Roger in this zippy bit of animated whimsy that wreaks havoc with history just for the bloody good fun of it. The latest film from British stop-motion powerhouse Aardman is as sprightly and bright as the studio's cherished favorites, such as Chicken Run, though the sheer volume of gags hurled here leads to a slightly lower hitting percentage.
A sporting Hugh Grant leads the charge as the Pirate Captain (no first names please), a jocular bon vivant who just loves the looting lifestyle, even though he's mediocre at it. Every year the good captain enters the coveted "Pirate of the Year" contest, only to be continually upstaged by flashier buccaneers such as Jeremy Piven's trash-talking Black Bellamy, and Salma Hayek's "Cutlass Liz," a bombshell with an abundance of both kinds of booty.
Determined to claim the grand prize, the cap'n and his goofball crew set sail to terrorize the Caribbean, but flop at every turn. One failed plundering attempt lands the gang on board the HMS Beagle, the research vessel made famous by Charles Darwin, voiced here by Dr. Who's cheeky David Tennant. Sharp-eyed naturalist Chuck points out that the captain's beloved portly mascot Polly, is in fact a supposedly extinct Dodo bird, just the sort of rare treasure that would earn fame and fortune even for a scoundrel. Of course, this means sailing straight into the heart of London, where an absurdly vengeful Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) has declared Pirates as Public Enemy No. 1, and has her own devious designs on Polly.
While it won't help the kids with their history homework, Pirates! is so amiably rollicking and kinetic it will surely win points for parents who drag the brood along. The droll history references and wink-wink jokiness might breeze right over the little ones' heads, but they are a cut above the normal cartoon fare, though like the hero's cannons, not always on target.
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