Hasn't the world suffered enough pirates? In one of the best jokes in The Pirates! Band of Misfits, a crewmember observes, "You can't just say 'arrr' and make everything better."
Yet the new film from Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit) is sweet, winning and delightfully funny. It relates the saga of an indifferently able pirate and his crew, including all due adventures (sword fights, chases, last-minute rescues from the chopping block) and voice work by Hugh Grant and Salma Hayek.
On the phone with producer and co-director Peter Lord, we talk about pirate-movie overload. "We were concerned about those other pirates spoiling the marketplace for us," he said, "but our approach was completely different. We started from a whole different place. If we refer to anything, it is to the classic pirate movies, such as Treasure Island or the Burt Lancaster film The Crimson Pirate."
Pirates did not come easy. "People ask how long a film takes," Lord says. "Whenever I answer, there are gasps of horror and astonishment. All animated films take about five years."
All worth it, perhaps, to instruct growing children in the story of Queen Victoria's secret life as a ninja.
"It's likely the most historically inaccurate film ever made," Lord jokes. "It's magnificently wrong—in one scene we have Jane Austen and the Elephant Man together. She died 50 years before Mr. Merrick was born. Napoleon is sitting side by side with Queen Victoria."
Among the dunce-capped history here is the presence of Polly, the dodo—and the last of these birds had died more than 150 years before the film is set. How does one animate them?
"It's surprisingly easy," Lord says. "She's about the size of a squash ball. Big wide hips, very short legs, a very amusing sort of swinging-butt walk, big wide eyes, a little sensitive smile on the beak."
Such subtle glimpses, such increments, are Aardman's specialty, and once again they've come up with treasure.
'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' opens in wide release on Friday, April 27.