The Pirates! Band of Misfits
The genius of “The Hunger Games,” the movie but especially the book, is that you care immediately about the characters. Their humanity is what endears them to us.
The problem with any animated feature is that you’re one step removed from caring about humans: you’re looking at cartoon characters with the voices of humans. But in “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” the stand-offishness is compounded by the fact that the characters are mostly caricatures, and well, they have that British stiff-upper-lip kind of dry humor that may work well when you have pretty faces to look at (think of Hugh Grant in his romantic comedies with Julia Roberts). But here, it all just seems kind of like a forced cute. Like a beauty pageant for six-year-olds, and they’re in full make-up and formal regalia. There’s just nothing natural about it.
That famous “aw shucks” demeanor of Hugh Grant, with that winsome crooked smile and that shy, almost-stuttering kind of delivery is here completely absent. He lends his voice to the Pirate Captain, and at least he’s the most complex and interesting character, but giving up his visual appeal doesn’t work very well for him. This Pirate Captain heads up a very loyal crew who show him a lot of respect and deference, even though he demonstrates a little too much cloying affection for his pet parrot, and seems obsessed with winning the “Pirate of the Year” award at the annual gathering of the rogues on Blood Island (presided over by an Elvis-caricature “king of the pirates”).
It’s 1837 London , and Queen Victoria (also a carping caricature) hates all Pirates, even though Great Britain enjoys virtual worldwide domination of the oceans. She wants her Royal fleet to sink all the pirate ships. Meanwhile, our intrepid Pirate Captain and his crew, seeking a hapless cargo ship to plunder, happen to run across Charles Darwin, who immediately recognizes the Pirate Captain’s pet parrot as a dodo bird, thought to be long extinct. He wants to make a scholarly presentation to the Royal Society of Scientists, but Pirate Captain is much more interested in cashing in his prize for the booty that will make him eligible for the coveted Pirate of the Year award. (The peer recognition seems to be more important than the treasure itself, and it’s no accident that the awards ceremony looks much like the Oscars.)
Will our fearless but conflicted Pirate Captain sell his own pet for the sake of personal recognition? And will his crew respect him in the morning? Well, the animation itself is beautifully done, and the humor is steadfastly tongue-in-cheek. So, it’s a kind of a wry technical achievement that probably won’t offend anybody. Too bad there’s neither heart nor soul.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas