Young and old alike love a good pirate yarn and the stop-motion specialists at Aardman Animations deliver the goods. After dabbling in CGI for their last feature effort, Arthur Christmas, the British animation studio here returns to the clay figures and stop-motion techniques that earned them such success with the Wallace and Gromit pictures and Chicken Run (though Pirates! employs some computer effects to create the movement of the ocean and a few other things difficult to render with stop-motion). The daffy British humor may confound some of the youngest viewers but there is plenty of universal slapstick to supplement the drier Brit wit.
The story is by Gideon Defoe, based on his comedy book, The Pirates! in an Adventure With Scientists. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain, a mediocre scalawag beloved by his crew, who covets the annual Pirate of the Year Award. So it’s back out to sea to capture more booty, but instead the pirates capture Charles Darwin, who recognizes that the captain’s “big-boned” bird Polly is not a parrot but the last dodo on Earth. Queen Victoria (voiced by Staunton), the sworn enemy of pirates, wants the animal for her petting zoo, but has other unstated reasons that are more nefarious. Better use should have been made of the voice talent provided by Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, and Lenny Henry than the meager cameos their characters have. But no one here needs to walk the plank.