Based on the “The Pirates!” book series by Gideon Defoe, Sony Pictures Animation’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits represents the studio’s latest collaboration with Aardman Animation. Directed by Aardman’s co-founder Peter Lord (who also directed 2000’s Chicken Run), Pirates! represents a massively scaled foray into feature-length stop-motion animation.
The film tells the story of a highly jovial (but somewhat misguided) Pirate crew and their quest for their Captain (known only as “The Pirate Captain”) to win the “Pirate of the Year” award. Along the way, they find themselves teaming with Charles Darwin to go up against the pirate-hating Queen Victoria and some of the deadliest sea-faring, swashbuckling competition of all time.
Featuring the voice talents of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven and many more, Pirates! hits theaters on April 27th. Following a brief preview, ComingSoon.net had the chance to sit down for a chat with Lord to discuss the decidedly silly tone of the adventure.
CS: You showed off some footage of yourself dressed up as The Pirate Captain for the animators to use as video reference. It sort of made me wonder if one might think of stop motion animators as their own “Band of Misfits.’
Peter Lord: Yes! We are, kind of. That’s certainly fair enough. We’re definitely not in the mainstream. I’ll buy that. I’ve been very happy to be the Captain.
CS: Well, after being on set, you can see the personalities of the animators bleeding off into the pirate crew.
Lord: Yes, definitely. Except for the transvestite, I think. Well, there’s probably a few of those around as well, actually. (laughs) I guess we’re a quirky bunch, aren’t we? I think we probably are. We’ve evolved in our own little world slightly cut-off from the mainstream. We’re cheerful and optimistic and constantly going out there and trying desperate things.
CS: One of the great things about the footage you’ve shown off is that, not only do we get to see this whole pirate crew, but we also see this world of period scientists. From the looks of things, you had just as much fun coming up with their characters.
Lord: Yes, it is fun! It’s a different sort of fun. The contrast is fun. All the pirates are sort of madly over the top and extravagant and noisy and the scientists are madly old-fashioned and stuck in the mud. There’s a scene I love where one of the scientists goes, all excited, “And you also get this lovely set of encyclopedias!” The Captain is just like a little kid and the very last thing he wants is a set of encyclopedias. But we’ve had a lot of fun with that. Great fun in creating different worlds. The Pirate world is all color and the scientist world is all monochrome. But, as it turns out, they’re quite fun as well, those scientists. They’ve got Rubik’s Cubes and brains in a jar. Almost everyone in our world is quite crazy. Deranged in some way.
CS: One of the things that stuck out on-set was the whale. At the time, I remember thinking that something so massive just had to be the climax of the movie. You showed off the intro today, though, and, no, it’s the beginning of the movie which is pretty exciting tease of how massive the whole film is going to be.
Lord: I do love that entrance! I love it so much. It was such a fabulous model. The whale flying through the air is CG but, when it lands, its jaw drops open and we had this great big jaw of a whale. And that tongue! It was a huge, big, fat rubber tongue. It was the most amazing animation thing you ever saw. It just rolls out and goes “SLAP!” and there’s a great big sound effect on that. But, yes, surprise is very important to me and in this film, particuarly. It has this playful tone to it. It’s our strong suite, unpredictability and surprise. The whale is one big visual joke and one hell of an entrance from Black Bellamy. You get that kind of jokes and, then, smaller we have a pirate in the background playing on the accordian the “2001” theme. We’re trying to surprise the audience.
CS: Even just the quick shots of the town, you want to pause and read all the signs.
Lord: Yeah. We don’t spend long enough there, I must say. At different times over the course of the film we do spend longer there. I won’t say it’s thrown away, but there’s a wealth of fabulous comic detail that we just glimpse in the background. You can watch it later on DVD and see what there is to see. I know it’s cliche, but there is so much to see. So much comedy in the background.
CS: You mentioned earlier that the Pirates have a sort of punk rock aesthetic and that there’s also a song by Flight of the Conchords. Is that a new song written specifically for the film?
Lord: No, it’s not. It’s one from one of their albums. But it’s funny, the punk rock thing. It was never planned. It just happened and it seemed to work. It fits with the band of misfits. Their attitude to life and that kind of chaotic aproxima, garage band, make it up as you go along.
CS: Is that just the hero pirates? Does Bellamy have a different sort of sound to him?
Lord: He probably would, yes. He has this brief moment, when he makes his entrance, with this kind of ridiculous Las Vegas showtune playing. We recorded it in Abbey Road last week. It’s just fabulous and very typical of Teddy [Shapiro], our composer, to just go with it. Then Cutlass Liz has this raunchy/sleazy brass theme that plays when she comes in. So, yes, that punk theme is just our crew of misfits.
CS: Because you’ve got a team of people whose sense of humor is so offbeat, do you come across jokes that you end up having to broaden?
Lord: We had so many jokes because Gideon is such a funny writer and there are so, so many jokes. I guess you do come across many that just won’t fly. I’m not into this being difficult or challenging in any way. I want it to be gentle and so jolly and so funny and so happy an experience that you’re happy about it even if you’ve missed half the jokes. There’s a level of comedy there for — I wouldn’t say an older viewer. It’s not that kind of knowing, “Let’s put gags in for the parents” kind of thing. It’s not that. Like we talked about the scientists just now. I think everyone understands the basic convention that science is boring. Everyone gets that so we exagerate it. The scientists have, at one point, this clap-ometer to measure the responses to their presentations. It’s funny because they’re so boring, but they have it. The highest praise is “Ladies Fainting.” It’s one of those things that’s not entirely obvious, but it’s a good sight gag anyway. When a lady faints, it’s a good gag. It refers to old-fashioned English culture in a gentle way.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits hits theaters in 2D and 3D on April 27th.