Sunday, April 29, 2012
As I write this, The Pirates! is getting crushed at the US box office, which is a shame but not a surprise.
Like many misunderstood films before it, what's advertised and what's delivered are two very different products.
Not surprisingly, the trailer stresses this as a kid's movie; it plays up the zaniness and slapstick and suggests a narrative centering around a "pirate of the year award." At a glance, the movie seems to be very light flick exclusively for young kids.
Those of you who dislike cloying pieces of cinematic garbage will be glad to hear the movie's nothing like that. The only complication is that "what it is" is incredibly difficult to pin down. But I'll give it a shot, starting with the title.
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" isn't actually what this movie is called, at least not in the country where it was made. Like the book it's based on, this movie's title is "The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists." Both titles are awkward, but in the British version it's clearly intentional.
I'm not sure what bothers me more: that the distributors have such a low opinion of our country they think we're unwilling to pay admission to a movie with the word "scientist" in the title or the idea that they may be right.
This is ultimately satire, not slapstick. And, contrary to the trailer, the tone is surprisingly subdued. The movie is, for lack of a better word, chill, largely set to a score of British pop music and slipping more jokes into the sets than anywhere else. It's generally light fare and mostly kid-safe, providing kids won't be bothered by the heroes having a nonchalant conversation on the joys of running people through (there's not a lot of that onscreen, but the good-natured protagonists certainly aren't ambiguous about being murderers, nor do they seem particularly ashamed about the particulars of their profession).
This is, simply put, a quintessentially British animated film being marketed for an American audience. Personally, I think they'd have had more luck being a bit more honest. There aren't a huge number of people left who'd go see a movie on that alone, but I'm betting there's more money in British humor than in what was advertised (especially with Box Office Mojo questioning whether it'll even break the $10 million mark this weekend).
This is neat little film, but don't feel bad if you're holding off. This one should play just as well on a small screen in the comfort of your living room.