The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Sony Pictures

Review in a Hurry: If you crave an animated adventure that isn't dumbed down, this is for you—a pirate adventure in the spirit of Wallace and Gromit.

The Bigger Picture: If you had to sum up the current trend in children's movies in a single word, that word would be more: More pop culture references, more noise, more sequels, more special effects. At first, the 3-D animated The Pirates! Band of Misfits seems to fit this cult of more: It's so packed with one-liners and sight gags that seeing it a second time is almost a prerequisite.

But Pirates! isn't your typical post-millennial family flick. It's way too smart for that. Yes, the movie is awash in eye candy, thanks to a mix of stop-motion and 3-D tech. And Pirates! has its share of swashbuckling. But, with source material based on the witty Gideon Defoe Pirates! books, not to mention the humanistic sensibilities of the Aardman production team (Wallace and Gromit), this tale is more about people than plunder.

Hugh Grant voices a Pirate Captain—that's his name, the Pirate Captain—who wants nothing more than to be named Pirate of the Year. He fills out the requisite application, detailing how much booty he's amassed, how mighty his roar is, but his chances are slim to none this year. Not when there are rock star pirates like Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) who boasts the "bee-gest" diamond in the world.

Cap and his crew (Martin Freeman and Anton Yelchin among the voices) set out to fill their coffers in time for the big awards show. But instead of money, they find a man: the scientist Charles Darwin (Dr. Who's David Tennant). Darwin points out that the pirates' official parrot mascot is not what she appears to be. Both Cap and Darwin have a similar goal: riches and fame at the expense of the other, and a tangle of loopy Victorian-era intrigue ensues. Even the queen herself (Imelda Staunton) has an agenda, and it isn't just the honor of the House of Hanover.

The largely British cast lends a sense of gentle understatement to the story, saving it from lurching into over-the-top Pirates of the Caribbean territory. And Aardman's lippy animation style adds a quirky level of character development that's absent in many family films of the moment. Put it all together and you have a movie that gives kids what they want—pirates! pirates! pirates!—and adults what they crave: a fully realized, and very funny, adventure.

The 180—a Second Opinion: At a recent screening, adults laughed more often than the kids. The less-than-frenetic pacing may prove problematic for kids used to more feverish fare.

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