The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists and StreetDance2
Bristol-based Aardman Animations, the Oscar-winning creators of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, discover their sea legs in The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, a salty escapade based on the book by Gideon Defoe. Five years in the making, the film showcases the extraordinary craftsmanship and dedication of director Peter Lord and his team, who have brought this colourful world vividly to life through the painstakingly slow process of stop-motion animation.
Their artistry is astonishing and backgrounds are crammed with detail and sly visual gags that warrant a second or even third viewing. Defoe’s script is peppered with some wry one-liners and a centrepiece chase sequence down the winding staircase of a house is hysterical. But for all its dazzling qualities, there is no escaping a nagging feeling that this madcap voyage drops anchor short of the brilliance of Aardman’s earlier works.
It’s the mid-19th century and Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton) has declared war on all pirates who dare to sail around Britain’s waters. The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is the leader of a ragtag group of seadogs, whose enthusiasm far exceeds his questionable ability to plunder booty.
His ship-shape subordinates include Pirate with Scarf (Martin Freeman), Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson), Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey) and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen), whose glaringly obvious gender is concealed behind a false beard. Consequently, The Pirate Captain and his crew are a laughing stock, derided by rivals such as Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry).
To prove the naysayers wrong, The Pirate Captain sets out to capture a Bank of England treasure ship but inadvertently storms The Beagle and captures a young Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and his primate manservant, Mister Bobo. The scientist leads the pirates on a merry dance that might just end with the Captain taking home the coveted Pirate of the Year prize. But first they must venture to the capital without being spotted by the Queen.
“London smells like grandma!” grimaces one of the crew as they adopt a succession of silly disguises and discover the greatest treasure of all has been theirs all along.
The film draws on Aardman’s trademark visual style and playful humour. Grant is a snug fit for the Captain and the supporting cast have fun, including Brian Blessed in bombastic form as the Pirate King. Defoe’s script walks the gangplank of belly laughs and gentle emotion although none of the characters threaten to usurp Wallace and his pooch in our affections as they sail off into a perfectly animated sunset.
In StreetDance2 talented street dancer Ash (Falk Hentschel) seizes his one shot at glory during a high-profile competition but falls flat on his face in front of a booing crowd and reigning champions Invincible. Dusting himself off, he meets wise-cracking Eddie (George Sampson), who suggests they join forces to create a crew from around the world to dethrone Invincible. So the young men cross Europe, seeking out performers for their ramshackle squad. Arriving in Paris, they meet bar owner Manu (Tom Conti) and his sexy niece Eva (Sofia Boutella). Now Ash must learn to dance as part of a crew rather than by himself.
StreetDance 2 is energetic and undemanding, following a predictable path as Ash and Eva fall head over heels in love to a soundtrack of contemporary dance floor anthems. Conti provides welcome comic relief, making clear to Ash the repercussions for letting down Eva. “If you hurt her, I will break your legs,” he growls in a cod-Spanish accent resurrected from his glory days in Shirley Valentine Dialogue is simplistic and supporting characters are defined by signature moves rather than anything that could be considered personalities.
If audiences were willing to forgive the first StreetDance a multitude of screenwriting sins, then the second instalment should body-pop into their affections too.