‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits’/ ‘Mad Monster Party’

Let us compare and contrast two examples of stop-motion separated by a quarter century. The new recruit is The Pirates! Band of Misfits, a British production from Aardman Productions (universally and sensibly described as the Wallace & Gromit people). This effort isn’t from guru Nick Park, however, but director Peter Lord and writer Gideon Defoe (a likely moniker), based on the latter’s archly bonkers juvenile novel, although the book didn’t assign the role to Queen Victoria seen in this movie.

The wacky, lovable, misfit pirates, led by a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-ish Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant), meet timid yet scheming Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and, in an absurd ploy to secure the award for Pirate of the Year, go up against the iron fist of Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton). It’s cute, clever, whimsical, British, packed with eye-filling detail, and loud. I stress the last point, wondering if it’s a British thing to mix everything loudly except the dialogue, so that you have to turn it up to ear-splitting proportions. Maybe it’s just me.

The 3D scare has encouraged modern animation to construct shots in length and depth, so this film looks quite gorgeous even its flat (preferred) state as the entrées to action and the action itself become increasingly exhausting. Whenever the characters in a classic animated film would burst into song, this movie throws in the borrowed hipness of everyone from Jimmy Cliff to Oasis. I’m all for indoctrinating today’s brats with the classics, but I can’t help mistrusting this gesture as a shameless ploy for grown-ups that’s also just a tad, just a dash, just a jot lazy.

Am I deluded in perceiving more magic in 1967’s Mad Monster Party, an incomparably cheaper item from producers Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.? Is my judgment dimmed by childhood memories? Is it the sweet nostalgia of the dear voice of Boris Karloff as Baron Von Frankenstein, who throws the title bash? And even the booming screech, heaven help us, of the late Phyllis Diller?

Nay, for a friend showed the thing to two pre-adolescent kids, one of each gender, and she reports them so spellbound that they watched it repeatedly for a week. Surely they’re picking up on the wit of a screenplay whose writers include the great comics-satirist Harvey Kurtzman and the monsterrific Forrest J. Ackerman. Or they just like the colorful monsters, the original songs, and the easy-going air calculated to seduce without undue agitation. Who knows? Maybe in 25 years, The Pirates will be so lucky as to have its nostalgic champions.

RATING 5 / 10