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Film of the week 29/3/12: The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (U)

Bristol-based Aardman Animations, the Oscar-winning creators of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, discover their sea legs in this salty escapade based on the book by Gideon Defoe.

Five years in the making, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists showcases the extraordinary craftsmanship and dedication of director Peter Lord and his team, who have brought this colourful world vividly to life through the painstakingly slow process of stop-motion animation.

Their artistry is astonishing and backgrounds are crammed with detail and sly visual gags that warrant a second or even third viewing.

Defoe's script is peppered with some wry one-liners and a centrepiece chase sequence down the winding staircase of a house is hysterical.

For all its dazzling qualities, there's no escaping a nagging feeling that this madcap voyage drops anchor short of the brilliance of Aardman's earlier works.

It's the mid-19th century and Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton) has declared war on all pirates who dare to sail around Britain's waters.

The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) is the leader of a ragtag group of seadogs, whose enthusiasm far exceeds his questionable ability to plunder booty.

His ship-shape subordinates include Pirate with Scarf (Martin Freeman), Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson), Albino Pirate (Russell Tovey) and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen), whose glaringly obvious gender is concealed behind a false beard.

Consequently, The Pirate Captain and his crew are a laughing stock, derided by rivals such as Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry).

To prove the naysayers wrong, The Pirate Captain sets out to capture a Bank of England treasure ship but inadvertently storms The Beagle and captures a young Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and his primate manservant, Mister Bobo.

The scientist leads the pirates on a merry dance that might just end with the beleaguered captain taking home the coveted Pirate Of The Year prize.

But first they must venture to the capital without being spotted by the Queen.

‘London smells like grandma!’ grimaces one of the crew as they adopt a succession of silly disguises and discover the greatest treasure of all has been in their clutches all along.

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists draws on Aardman's trademark visual style and playful sense of humour.

Grant is a snug fit for the misguided captain and supporting cast have fun with their slender roles, including Brian Blessed in suitably bombastic form as the Pirate King.

The script, adapted by Defoe from his book, walks the gang plank of belly laughs and gentle emotion although none of the characters threaten to usurp Wallace and his resourceful pooch in our affections as they sail off into a perfectly animated sunset.