A young Charles Darwin shows up to a fancy dinner party with an unusual guest—a monkey named Mr. Bobo, clad in a tuxedo and handling the food and drink just like a human. Since he hasn't yet written On the Origin of Species, Darwin thinks nothing of it. But another guest—a buccaneer known simply as Pirate Captain—notices that Chuck (as he calls him) and Bobo share some mannerisms. "Are the two of you related?" he asks, and a comedic flash of revelation crosses Darwin's face. And thus the notion of evolution is born.
A few hours earlier, Pirate Captain and his band of plunderers arrived in London for a science convention, figuring a partnership with Darwin to be their ticket to some major booty. They know full well that pirates who show up in Queen Victoria's city seldom live to tell about it, so the (almost) entirely male pirate crew shows up with a well-planned disguise—as a troop of girl scouts.
These are very brief moments in a film that rolls along at a crisp pace. One is even tempted to call them throwaway gags—if any comedy bit so perfectly orchestrated could be a throwaway. Yet, I suspect your enjoyment of The Pirates! Band of Misfits can be gauged by your appreciation of this kind of humor, which animates the entire film—always very smart, generally very silly.
Pirates is the latest film from Aardman, the studio that brought us Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit (both the TV specials and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit movie). Pirates shares with those a very dry and very British sense of humor and cleverness. Aardman takes a while between feature films, partly due to their painstaking stop-motion animation process, but perhaps also because facilitating this kind of brainy/loony comedy takes time.
The movie is based on a series of British comedy books by Gideon Defoe, and it is, of course, not the first pirates-themed movie to hit the big screen in recent years. Even so, the film is really rather original; certainly, this brand of humor is rare on American shores, and I don't recall ever seeing it in a pirate-themed context.
The story hinges on Pirate Captain's own ambitions and insecurities. He'd like to fancy himself a great plunderer, the scourge of the seven seas, but he's really a bit of a softy. (On his list of the best things about pirating, running people through with a sword takes honorable-mention status to "Ham Nite.") So he sets out to prove to himself, and to the world, that he's the most villainous pirate there is, entering into the storied Pirate of the Year Awards.
His plan very quickly veers off on a strange path. After attempting to plunder from a leper boat, a kids' field trip boat, and a, er, ghost ship, he lands on Chuck Darwin's scientific vessel. After a brief misunderstanding with some baboon kidneys, Pirate Captain realizes that Darwin's scientific know-how could be his ticket to all the loot he needs to win the contest. So: On with the girl scout uniforms, and off to London for the science convention.