A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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ever seen before; this one is young, angry, and ready to squash anyone who gets in her way -- especially those dirty, outdated pirates.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?
- In theaters: April 27, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: August 28, 2012
- Cast: Hugh Grant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek
- Directors: Jeff Newitt, Peter Lord
- Studio: Sony Pictures Animation
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Misfits and underdogs, Pirates
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild action, rude humor and some language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.