I was looking forward to seeing Pirates! In an adventure with scientists! more than I have looked forward to seeing a children’s film since, well, when I was child. On paper it had all the top-notch Aardman elements so when I went into the cinema with a gaggle of children I was the keenest for the trailers to end and the fun to start. But I have to report it left me a bit meh.
Yes, I know. Not quite sacrilege but getting close. But I’m just saying it as it was. I wanted to love it, in a month or two to be sleeping outside HMV waiting for the DVD to be released. An Aardman film not filling me with joie de vivre?! An Aardman film not super-brilliant? Bit they created Wallace, Morph, the fox, the chickens, and of course Gromit – they are the greatest film studio in the UK.
What’s happened? Maybe I was expecting too much from what is only, when you get to the bottom of it, an animated film. Aardman’s general brilliance has ratcheted up expectations so high that they are now unsustainable. On any sensible reading Pirates is indeed brilliant. Hugh Grant and David Tennant are the sort of big names that Aardman can bag nowadays. The animation – well, what can you say? Aardman have perfected animation. No one does it better. Although…Can animation be too perfect? Have the models lost the homespun beauty of previous Aardman characters? Are the voices too well-known? Has the bigger budget somehow removed the heart? The love for the characters that exists in Wallace and Gromit seemed to be missing, especially for the women who were either mad, sexy or disguised as men. There seemed to be a unremitting thesis that not having a girl-friend was bad, and the monkey was always on a sticky wicket, drawing immediate comparisons with the sublime Gromit.
There were a few nice touches in the script, particularly when Darwin is helped towards his great opus by off-the-cuff remarks by the Pirate Captain. The plot also is nicely deranged, although not quite funny enough to carry the film. Annoyingly, one of the funniest scenes – when the pirates sail into London – had already been shown directly before the film started as part of an anti-film-piracy message. That didn’t help the suspension of disbelief, and you need a lot of when you’re watching a plasticene pirate voiced by Hugh Grant.
As for the 3D, I don’t want to come over all Mark Kermode, but did it really add anything? Especially for a short-sighted gent who has to wear the 3D specs over his normal glasses? Kids can be merciless with their laughter… 3D only really seems to make text float, which is great for watching the credits at the end, but during the film it just makes things a little blurry. OK, there’s a sense that this is in front of that, but you get that sense anyway in 2D. Because it is. Not a winner for me, though with the amounts that studios have invested in the technology it will be around for a while yet.
Overall Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists! is slick and polished and yet a bit ho-hum, a bit could-have-done-better. Maybe that is just because we know how hilarious Aardman can be. Still, a ho-hum Aardman production is still worth seeing. Get thee to a cinema, see what you think and tell us in the comments below.