The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Pirates! Band of Misfits Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Pirate adventure blends Victorian history, high-seas fun.
  • PG
  • 2012
  • 87 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 23 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 29 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

If they're paying attention, kids will learn some historical facts -- like that in 1837, Queen Victoria ascended the throne, or that that's when a young Charles Darwin was keeping his early notebooks about the environment. Obviously, there are some exaggerations and liberties taken with the truth, but the portrayals of the queen and Darwin are so amusing that kids are bound to want to learn more about whether they're real and what their place in history is.

Positive Messages

Subtle messages about unconditional friendship, loyalty, tolerance, and what constitutes a family. The Pirate Captain's crew is indeed a bunch of misfits (an albino, a woman pretending to be a man, a peg-legged pirate, and a captain who can't seem to find any booty), but they stand by one another, even when times are dire. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pirates aren't exactly positive role models, but a couple of them act honorably. The Pirate Captain rescues his pet from the clutches of the movie's villain, even though he could have ended up in prison or dead. And pirate Number Two and the rest of the crew save the day, even though the Pirate Captain had betrayed them. On the flip side, Darwin is depicted as weaselly and selfish, and young Queen Victoria is homicidal and bloodthirsty when it comes to endangered animals.

Violence & Scariness

Some gun, sword, and hand-to-hand violence. There are explosions and close calls, but no one is killed or permanently injured, although the queen must be subdued in order to save the Dodo bird that was going to be slaughtered and eaten. The pirates face off against ghosts.

Sexy Stuff

Female pirate Cutlass Liz has noticeable cleavage, and the male pirates stare at her curves in one saloon scene. Darwin has an overwhelming crush on the queen and says her severe bun "does it for him." The Pirate Captain flirts with one of Darwin's female friends during a night at the pub. The "Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate" is actually a woman, and she ends up in a tub, but nothing is ever shown.


Language includes infrequent use of "hell," "ass," and "crap," plus "idiot" and "stupid."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The pirates are often shown at a saloon or celebrating the Pirate of the Year Awards, so there's a noticeable amount of drinking (what looks like beer, wine, or mead/grog). The Pirate Captain gets drunk hanging out with Charles Darwin and his friends. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Pirates! Band of Misfits isn't your typical pirate adventure, but there's still action, mild high-seas peril, a little bit of colorful language ("hell," etc.), and some parent-targeted jokes about the two historical characters depicted in the movie: Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin. Although the pirates use guns and swords and have hand-to-hand fights, they don't face any real danger until the climactic battle with the queen; before that, their enemies are schoolchildren, lepers, and ghosts. That said, the queen is quite menacing, and Darwin is greedy in his attempts to steal from the pirates. But the pirates themselves, rather than being bloodthirsty and selfish, are more like a family that sticks together, loot or no loot.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 June 13, 2014

Beautiful animation, edgy & snappy script!

This movie had a really tough sell, I'm surprised it got made at all! Pirates team up with Charles Darwin? What kind of an odd, history bending premise is... Continue reading
Adult Written byHaff June 3, 2020

Cool stop motion. Biased humor

The kids enjoyed the stop motion. It is beautiful. The only spots they laughed aloud were the same three moments as in the trailer. What upset me was the role... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byBabeMagnet69 November 5, 2020

Phenomenal piece of art.

An instant classic... An excellent film that has a couple of jokes here and there worthy of a chuckle. Anyone who bashes this film is borderline idiotic.

Trum... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old August 8, 2020

Tender pirate movie

This is an all in all appropriate film but there is a tiny bit of peril and language like arse and ass. There is also minor words includeing stupid, jerk and tr... Continue reading

What's the story?

Every year, the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) enters the prestigious Pirate of the Year contest and loses because his crew prefers to lie low and enjoy the simpler pleasure of "Ham Night" rather than engage in the bloody but profitable work of hardcore pirateering. When the contest's other contenders for 1837's title -- Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry) -- poke fun at the Pirate Captain, he decides to embark on an aggressive campaign to take over other ships. But the plan is a failure ... until the captain storms the ship of Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and is told that his pet parrot is actually the thought-to-be-extinct Dodo bird. Darwin convinces the Pirate Captain and his crew to make landfall in London so the Dodo can win "untold riches" at an annual science conference. But what it really does is bring the pirates to the attention of the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who has her own surprisingly nefarious reasons to want to keep the Dodo.

Is it any good?

Fans of Aardman Studios' signature style of stop-motion clay animation (a la Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit), will find this movie absolutely delightful. It's a fun mix of swashbuckling pirate adventure, Charles Darwin biography, and twisted Victoriana lesson. This isn't the kind of Queen Victoria anyone has ever seen before; this one is young, angry, and ready to squash anyone who gets in her way -- especially those dirty, outdated pirates. Tennant's Darwin is particularly hilarious and Machiavellian (which perhaps is in keeping with the legendary naturalist's theories) in his quest to control the Dodo bird. But the real scene-stealer is Darwin's trained butler, a monkey called Mr. Bobo who communicates via a series of index cards. "Uh" and "oh," he holds up whenever danger is imminent.

In his first voice-acting role, Grant is perfectly suited to his part as the Pirate Captain with a "luxuriant beard" and well-appointed pirate garb. His misfit crew includes an albino (Anton Yelchin), a "surprisingly curvaceous" pirate (Ashley Jensen) who's actually a woman with a fake beard, and a pirate with gout (Brendan Gleeson). The animation is what you'd expect from the detailed animators behind Wallace & Gromit, but it's the inventive story that makes The Pirates! so much fun for parents and kids alike. It's got plenty of grown-up jokes (mostly historical ones), but the humor is still accessible to little mateys, although those who've heard of Darwin will be in for a particularly "plunderful" treat.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why pirate movies are so popular. What is it about pirate tales that continues to be so compelling for movie audiences? How are the crew members in The Pirates! different than other movie mateys?

  • How does the movie depict Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria? Do you think that the characters are portrayed accurately? Is it OK for filmmakers to take liberties with historical figures for the sake of humor?

  • Some of the movie's jokes are specifically aimed at grown-ups; do you think too much of the humor is historical or for adults? Do you think jokes for parents are necessary in kids' movies?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love pirates

Themes & Topics

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