A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pirate's Passage is a 2015 animated feature based on the 2007 book of the same title. There's some occasional profanity ("son of a bitch," "bastard"). There is some bullying -- a bully trains his dog to act vicious and chase after his classmate. There's also some action violence: sword-fighting leading to blood and ship battles with cannon fire and burning ships. One of the lead characters frequently drinks rum, and in one scene, an unscrupulous businessman stumbles into an inn he wants to buy out with his two sons. They are drunk and rowdy, and the rum-drinking lead character buys beers for them so that they become so drunk they are easily manipulated into falling for a scheme that leads to them falling into the cold ocean.
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What's the story?
In Grey Rocks, Nova Scotia, in November 1952, a small ship is forced ashore during a storm, and its pilot, Captain Charles Johnson (voiced by Donald Sutherland), takes up temporary residence at a struggling inn where a tween boy named Jim (Gage Munroe) lives with his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss). Jim is the target of a bully at school, who has trained his dog to attack him when he rides by on his bike; this bully's father is an unscrupulous businessman scheming to buy out the struggling inn from Jim's mother. But as Jim gets to know Captain Johnson as he sits by the fire drinking rum, he is transported and seemingly immersed in the world of pirates and their battles from over 200 years ago -- which is fortunate, as Jim is trying to write a paper for school about pirates. But Captain Johnson also teaches Jim lessons in self-control by admonishing him to "listen, think, respond" before making any rash decisions and showing ways in which Jim and his family can fight back against the bully's family. But there's even more to Captain Johnson, and as the mystery is slowly revealed, Jim and his mother make incredible discoveries that have the potential to change their lives forever.
Is it any good?
Based on a popular YA fiction novel, this adaptation is enjoyable for adults as well as tweens due to the air of mystery surrounding Captain Johnson and in how the story never condescends. Pirate's Passage also goes far in challenging the depictions of pirates in media and popular culture, suggesting that some pirates are/were actually good and that some of the worst pirates live on land and have more sinister ways of looting the innocent. It's an accessible tale that mixes coming-of-age elements with history and pirates of the past with the timeless struggles of making ends meet.
Where it falls short is in the action itself. The schemes to outwit the rapacious businessman of the village and his boorish bullying sons feel like something from a Scooby-Doo episode (sans the masks and talk of "meddling kids"), to say nothing of the fight scenes toward the end. These moments cheapen the seriousness of an otherwise unique story filled with imaginative historical recreations of old pirate battles as well as the culture of a Nova Scotian village in the 1950s. Nonetheless, for fans of stories centered on pirates that deviate from standard "yargh, matey" fare, Pirate's Passage is an original take on familiar themes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies adapted from books. What do you think would be some of the challenges of turning a book into a movie?
In what ways does this movie contradict the common perceptions of pirates, especially as portrayed in media and popular culture?
How can you learn more about the history of pirates?
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