Pirate movies are common enough in the children's genre, but a pirate movie featuring Charles Darwin, Jane Austen, and the Royal Society of London? That's something that could only be the work of Aardman, the British studio that brought audiences other painstakingly-wrought claymation features like Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run.
The swashbucklers in The Pirates! Band of Misfits, whose names are limited to such descriptions as "Albino Pirate" and "Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens" (Al Roker), are too busy singing shanties and celebrating ham night to get down to the serious work of amassing booty. So when the annual pirate-of-the-year awards roll around, once again the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) has no hope of competing with his more cut-throat colleagues like Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek).
Determined to show they can plunder with the best of them, the Pirate Captain and his loyal crew begin to capture every vessel they run across, including a plague ship, a school field trip ship, and a ship of "naturalists, " (the natural parts are, thankfully, concealed by nautical gear). At last they stumble upon Charles Darwin's HMS Beagle and a plan to win enough gold to prove they're the scurviest salty-dogs on the high seas.
While the presence of the father of natural selection might make some wary, this Darwin is more interested in impressing girls than on advancing his theories on origins of species. There are a few jokes of the evolutionary persuasion such as when the Pirate Captain notes the similarities between Darwin and his monkey servant, but none seem intentionally indoctrinating. Indeed, some quips run the other way, like the motto on the Royal Society's seal that notes the group has been "Playing God since 1660."
As evidenced from the above, the humor here is dry, cheeky, and very, very British. The hilariously off-beat Gideon Defoe novel the movie is based on wasn't written for children (though bright, older kids could certainly enjoy it), and at times these adult origins show. One gag involves the "surprisingly curvaceous pirate" whose pirate breeches and fake beard barely conceal her infatuation with the Pirate Captain.
Though most of it is likely to fly over kids' heads, they will probably pick up the one or two instances of bad language, including "arse," that earns the movie a PG rating. Overall though, The Pirates! relies more on wit than on double-entendres, and for parents who appreciate quirk, it offers a clever respite from the bathroom gags that populate many family films these days.