Comedy on the seas

Comedy on the seas

Animated pirate tale brings life to quirky characters

Aardman Studios, the film studio that brought you the hit stop-motion Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run comedies, is back with another joke-filled film - The Pirates! Band of Misfits.

British actor Hugh Grant makes his debut in an animated film by voicing the character of the Pirate Captain, who leads a band of incompetent (but funny) pirates.

"They're just rubbish at it - they are really, really, really bad at piracy," Grant says of his rag-tag on-screen crew.

The plot focuses on the captain's desire to beat his rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) to the Pirate of the Year Award.

"It's like a sort of Oscars for pirates," says Grant, describing the award his character hopes to win in the film.

"He's entered many times, but he's always come in last. You win by having the most booty, but his booty haul is always tragic."

The captain and his devoted crew travel from the shores of Blood Island to the streets of Victorian London on a series of adventures. Here they meet scientist Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and Britain's Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who are both plotting secretively against the Captain.

The big scene-stealer, however, is probably the monkey butler Mister Bobo. He holds up flash cards to communicate (using "uh" and "oh"), warning the audience, in a panto-like fashion, of approaching danger.

The Aardman team made the pirate ship by putting together a total of 44,569 parts. The whole process took 5,000 hours to complete. When it was finished, the ship weighed 350kg and was so large that when the crew was moving it they had to cut around a door frame to fit the vessel through.

Band of Misfits is Aardman Studios' first-ever stop-motion film in 3D, so there's a lot riding on getting it just right.

The studio took a particularly long time to ensure that the characters looked like they were actually speaking, using replacement mouths attached to the figures' heads with magnets. More than 6,818 replacement puppet mouths were made, corresponding to different mouth movements.

Peter Lord, co-founder of Aardman and director of Band of Misfits, admits clay animation is a tricky business, but that when it works, it's worth all the effort.

"When you get it right - when you land a moment, or, better still, a whole series of moments - and the audience is completely convinced that this puppet isn't just moving, isn't just talking, but actually thinking ... that's a great illusion and it's incredibly satisfying," he says.

The Pirates!Band of Misfits opens on Thursday

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