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It seems fitting that in a year that looks likely to prove a Renaissance for stop motion animation that one of the most prolific studios to practise the painstaking art should lead the charge. With Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie and Laika’s ParaNorman on the way Aardman are here with their first feature length stop motion effort since 2005’s Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! based on the book of the same bonkers name by Gideon Defoe follows the crew of the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant, no I don’t think it sounds like him either) an inept seafaring rogue packing the most luxuriant beard in cinema history and his ambitious attempts to beat fellow black-hearted swashbucklers Peg-Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry) Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) to the coveted prize of Pirate of the Year. His endeavours lead him to cross paths with the nerdy Charles Darwin (David Tennant) who makes a startling observation about his beloved parrot Polly that could prove to be the ticket to victory the rogue needs.

It should go without saying that the love that has gone into the creation of this film is plain in every frame. The animation is absolutely top notch and Aardman’s tradition of cramming every scene with background gags and Easter eggs is here in full effect and the comedy in the script is exactly the kind of funny-for-all-ages gold the studio’s output has always been praised for. The script wrings plenty of mileage out of the piratical concept, expect plenty of fun with maps, constant references to barnacles and healthy amounts of mischievous high-jinks.

Although the richly detailed and brilliantly characterised puppets are rightly the focus of our attention it should be noted what fine work is achieved with CG graphics throughout the film including water effects and fog which complement the charm of the stop motion without overpowering it. The result is that this is easily the most richly colourful and vivid Aardman world yet.

The Pirate Captain is sure to become a family favourite, given the perfect balance of comical charm and ineptitude by Grant his single-mindedness, overconfidence and incompetence never less than highly amusing. His crew including Albino Pirate, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate and Pirate with Gout, though well characterised aren’t quite as successful but all still manage standout moments in the script. The story is well-ordered giving plenty of context for amusing set-pieces and the odd surprise along the way, but much of it is pretty formulaic. At this point it seems Aardman are reluctant to develop their stories with more emotional resonance or depth, which is not a mistake, they’re sticking to what they excel at but it would be nice to see how they handle a more challenging narrative all the same, not that I expected it here.

If you want good clean swashbuckling fun loaded with charm, distinctly British humour and top drawer stop motion animation look no further than The Pirates! It doesn’t quite reach the heights achieved with Wallace and Gromit but all the same there can be little doubt that the film is the pick of this year’s Easter holiday offerings.

Verdict

Monkey with bewilderingly convenient cue cards? Check. Insanely evil Queen Victoria? Check. Madcap humour guaranteed to keep a smile etched on your face for the entirety of the running time? Check. Aardman? Ambassadors of a wonderful medium working damn near the top of their game.

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