The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!/Band of Misfits (review)

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The Pirates In an Adventure with Scientists Band of Misfits green light

Plundered by Science

I’m not sure there’s ever been a more infuriating and more depressing title change for a film than how The Pirates! went from being subtitled In an Adventure with Scientists! — as it is called in the U.K., where it has been doing gangbusters business for several weeks — to Band of Misfits for its North American release. I can only imagine that America’s reputation as a land where science is frowned upon — there simply is no other postindustrial nation that is having serious ongoing public debates over whether children should be taught evolution, the backbone of biology — led Sony Pictures to believe that a film that even appears to imply that science! and scientists! could be fun! and adventurous! would be anathema.

And it’s a children’s movie! Oh noes, the kiddies! Brainwashed into thinking science is awesome! Who shall protect them from such horrors?

If such was Sony’s fear… well, then, they were right to worry. For Pirates! isn’t just a hoot and half — funny, clever, and wittily animated, basically pure delightful perfection — but perhaps the sneakiest educational film ever. Naturally there’s a motif about how friends are an excellent sort of booty, but even more insidious is the motif about how knowledge is the bestest booty of all. As in scientific knowledge. Yes, Pirates! is that sinister.

There’s the Pirate Captain, see (voiced with riotous gusto by Hugh Grant: American Dreamz, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason), and he wants to win the Pirate of the Year 1836 award: he’s been entering since forever and he never wins, because his booty simply is never bodacious enough to beat that of the likes of Black Bellamy (the voice of Jeremy Piven: Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard) or Cutlass Liz (the voice of Salma Hayek: Puss in Boots, Grown Ups). But he’s got a secret weapon this year, one that he doesn’t even realize he has — I won’t spoil it for you! — which he will discover with the help of a new passenger onboard his pirate ship: Charles Darwin (the voice of David Tennant: Fright Night, How to Train Your Dragon).

Charles. Darwin. The guy who told us we’re all descended from monkeys. He hasn’t done that yet here, but what if the wee ones discover that Darwin was a real person, and not merely a sweet cartoon nerd with a monkey butler — monkey butler! hilarious! — and go off and read something he wrote? Why, it could be chaos!

Yes, Pirates! is that sinister. Hide your children.

Though it’s all based on a book by Gideon Defoe [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] (who also wrote the screenplay), Pirates of the Caribbean is what made this movie possible as a movie. Pirates are in — in America, more in than science! But it also owes much to Monty Python: there’s a silly, cheeky absurdity to the goofy claymation, another triumph from the folks at Aardman (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit), and a glorious hint of anarchy in the anachronisms that dominate the story. It’s all rather more anachronistic than chronistic, so to speak, like the awards-show nonsense of the Pirate of the Year and the gong-show aura to the science exhibition the Pirate Captain and his crew end up crashing. (The crew includes more wonderful voice performances by a who’s who of hot British actors, including Martin Freeman [Sherlock the upcoming The Hobbit], Ashley Jensen [Arthur Christmas, Gnomeo & Juliet], Brendan Gleeson [The Raven, Safe House], and Russell Tovey [Being Human, Sherlock].)

The ideas that science is cool and knowledge is a valuable prize shouldn’t be more fitting to the 1830s than the 2010s, but there we are. I loved Pirates! completely and unreservedly, but I’m one of those devious intellectual types. I don’t even mind being descended from a monkey. So I’m probably not to be trusted.

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Fri, Nov 09, 2012 11:51pm

Not the masterpiece I’d started to expect particularly after Arthur Christmas, but certainly had its moments. Was the characterisation deliberately aimed at a slightly younger audience, perhaps? Most of the really good stuff for me was in the background details, especially the posters that are pasted all over the place, and in the characters’ expressions, rather than in the foreground story that I was supposed to be paying attention to. That was much more about action, antics, and people shouting “aaaaaaaaah” as they slid/fell/rolled down something. With that in mind, I think I probably have to blame the scriptwriter… and it seems that Gideon Defoe’s only previous screenwriting credits, as opposed to the books, are two episodes of Slacker Cats.

Never let the writer adapt his own work!

Fri, Jan 04, 2013 4:34am

You seem to have some anger issues towards America. You are not alone but as a “professional” critic I would think you might show some restrain. We are big fans of science in my household and my son attends a public high school specializing in science, mathematics and technology. He also participates and competes in a science club. So, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer I wouldn’t be so quick to stereotype. It’s not productive and who knows, you may be thanking my American son someday for his contributions towards science.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Annette
Sat, Jan 05, 2013 2:11am

Damn tootin’ I have some anger issues with America. Our science education is laughable. Far too many people think “intelligent design” is science and deny global warming.

If you are truly a “big fan of science,” you would know that America’s relationship with science needs some work. Your son may be getting a decent science education, but I’m sure you’re aware, as a big fan of science, of all the many problems facing science education in the U.S. Or are you suggesting that my comments about the state of science and science education in the U.S. are inaccurate?

Perhaps you would also kindly explain why I should “restrain” myself from discussing such matters, particularly within the context of a film such as this one…

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 2:28am

I agree that America’s school system needs a lot of work in relationship to science. However, I can still remain a fan of science. Sorry about that. I just feel that as a movie critic you should stick with your subject. Bringing in your admitted anger issues into your review is inappropriate. If you truly care about the current state of science education in America, I’m sure you’re resourceful enough to use your talents as a writer to promote some change. It came across to me that you took this review as an opportunity to vent. I simply read your review to get an idea of the quality of the movie. It’s not as though this movie is a hard core science movie. I think you took a small opportunity to vent personal anger and I found it very unprofessional.

reply to  Annette
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 4:17am

as a fan of science

it seems odd that you obviously have some comprehension
problems… where did the film critic say you “shouldn’t” be a fan of
science?  Where did you seem to
think she was telling you anything of the kind?  Her forum is a movie criticism site – where else should she
express her opinion on the sad state of science in the US today?  You act as if being a movie critic she
cannot then be interested in science and express her feelings that it needs a
lot more support… read more carefully. 
Or maybe get your science educated son to read it for you.

reply to  bronxbee
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 6:37pm

Her review begins by talking about the title change when marketed to the US. She basically said that based on America’s reputation on being a nation where science is frowned upon, Sony felt the need to change the title. She then spent the next 1/4 of her review talking about how a film that appears to imply that science and scientists could be fun and adventurous would be shunned by the viewing public. She continues to talk about how parents could possibly keep their children away from the movie because they may be brainwashed into thinking science is awesome and who could protect them from such horrors. I feel that she chose to focus on why the title was changed to take an opportunity to unfairly rant against how averse Americans are to Science. I don’t remember searching for a reason why the title of the movie was changed for marketing purposes. All I wanted was a review from a “reputable” film/movie critic. If she wishes to state her opinion on the state of science in the US today perhaps a political/socioeconomic venue is more appropriate. There is nowhere in her review where she said I should not be a fan of science.

reply to  Annette
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 6:52pm

In her saecastic reply back to me she said that if I were truly a “big fan of science” I would realize the state of the science education in this country. I do realize the precarious state. I never implied anything different. think the emphasis on science in the American school system is mediocre at best. It’s a flawed system. However, I have been interested in Science all my life as has my entire family so I think I have the right to remain a big fan. Listen, all I’m trying to say is that I don’t think it’s right nor productive to use your professional exposure to discuss your personal stereotype of an entire population. She’s getting paid to critique a movie. Some personal opinions are always appropriate in reference to the movie, not the entire character of a nation.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Annette
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 7:09pm

It is most certainly *not* my “personal stereotype* that science is under attack in the U.S. It is clear and obvious fact. And it is absolutely relevant in a film review to discuss the cultural context in which that film exists and is offered to audiences… and particularly in this case, when the film is being presented differently in different countries.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Jan 15, 2013 5:18am

I thought my last post that is found at the top of the page would be my last contribution. I’m sure you’ll be thrilled that I have one more contribution. Quentin Cooper from BBC radio did a bang up job questioning the change of titles from scientist to band of misfits in the BBC – Future Science/Fiction and Science/Environment edition from April 13, 2012. His write up was thoughtful, intelligent and delivered well in an appropriate literary outlet. I found it interesting that he mentioned that “The Artist” won more nominations in 2012 than any other film. Imagine American ignoramuses appreciating a film such as that….French nonetheless. Perhaps you should read his article. You may get some tips on how a talented, professional writer really writes.

MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Jan 05, 2013 2:13am

It did much better overseas than it did in the U.S. Perhaps Sony was right to fear the wrath of ignoramuses.

(Sorry for the late reply — only just saw your comment now.)

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 8:40pm

Well, it is your personal stereotype as well as many different countries. The stereotype has facts to support it as well. However, to infer that the American public wants to hide their children from the perils of science is just ridiculous. There are many families/people in this country who value education and to say that perhaps Sony was right to fear the wrath of ignoramuses is insulting and unprofessional. It is relevant to discuss cultural context when discussing a film. I just feel you used a lot of the first part of your review to give your opinions about Americans rather than about the film. Well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree because this interaction is going in one big circle. Your style just comes across to me as abrasive and bitter(not sure why) rather than intelligent and thoughtful. Just not a huge fan but wish you luck all the same.