In the era of Disney‘s multi-billion dollar “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, it’s easy to forget that, for most of the 20th century, the idea of a film revolving around swashbucklers and sea dogs was pretty much box office poison. Sure, Errol Flynn might have brought them in in droves in the early years of the talkies in “Captain Blood,” but since then, disaster followed disaster, with the likes of Roman Polanski‘s “Pirates” and Renny Harlin‘s “Cutthroat Island” entering the all-time hall of train wrecks.
But then came Johnny Depp, Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, and the genre is suddenly big business again. 2012 mercifully brings a break in the Jack Sparrow series, but pirates won’t be totally absent from movie theaters, thanks to “Wallace and Gromit” and “Chicken Run” creators Aardman Animation, with their latest stop-motion epic “The Pirates! A Band of Misfits” (or, internationally, “The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists“). And if the new trailer that debuted over at Empire is anything to go by, it looks like more fun than all the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels put together.
Based on a popular series of children’s books by Gideon Defoe, and directed by “Chicken Run” helmer Peter Lord (along with Jeff Newitt), it involves the hirsute pirate captain, The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant, seemingly having more fun than he’s had in years), and his trusty crew (which includes Martin Freeman, Ashley Jensen, Russell Tovey, Brendan Gleeson and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who evades the attentions of the evil Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), in an attempt to beat his rivals (Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek) to the Pirate of the Year award, only to accidentally end up kidnapping scientist Charles Darwin (David Tennant).
From the looks of the latest clip, it seems unlikely to be up there with Pixar and Miyazaki as life-changing examples of the medium, but it also displays a silly, Pythonesque sense of humor throughout, and has at least a few gags in there that are better than most live-action comedies that we’ve seen this year. Together with the typically detailed characters and sets from the studios, this looks like something that could be a pleasant little surprise next year, and it’s good to see Aardman bouncing back from a tough half-decade (their only theatrically-released film in the last five years, “Flushed Away,” tanked, and their relationship with DreamWorks was terminated as a result) with both this and the equally promising “Arthur Christmas.” “The Pirates! In Adventure With Scientists” opens in the UK on March 28th, while the identical-in-all-but-name “The Pirates! A Band Of Misfits” opens in the U.S. two days later.