Aardman Animations, the Oscar-winning creators of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, find their sea legs in this salty tale based on a book by Gideon Defoe and voiced with relish by, amongst much British talent, Hugh Grant.

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Versatility is an asset that is admired in an actor but less so in a star. When we go to a film because of a star name we want that star to be the image we expect of them and I think that goes doubly so when they are lending their voices to animation.

So I will admit I spent rather too much time in The Pirates! wondering why, though the credits suggested that Grant would be the star of this latest Aardman animation, the Pirate Captain sounded uncannily like Hugh Lawrie.

I’m not complaining, mind; Grant does a rip-roaringly good Lawrie, and Hugh Lawrie (the soppy comedy Lawrie, not the grumpy House delta blues man Lawrie) really captures what the movie is all about, which has a larky Blackadder/junior Python mix of ingenuity and irreverent silliness.

The title is endearingly quirky and a bit more quirky than the film can support. The definite article Pirates are a largely inept but cheerful crew led by a vainglorious captain whose head is swayed by dreams of winning the Pirate of the Year award.

The scientist they get into an adventure with is a wimpy Charles Darwin involving Queen Victoria.

After more than a decade of trying, the Bristol-based animation company has failed to turn their small-screen cache into the kind of success enjoyed by Pixar or DreamWorks or even, rather gallingly, a single Ice Age movie.

This feels like a back-to-basics effort, a dignified retreat to what they know best, one made for the fun of it.

It has all the old virtues of classic Aardman, though the ineffectual pasting of 3D slightly detracts from the lovely handcrafted feel of the stop-motion animation.

It’s a film that I suspect will be liked by children but loved by adults.

It’s like a modernised, grown-up version of a beloved children’s programme and more good honest Pirate fun than Johnny Depp’s managed in more than 10 hours.

THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS (U)

Directors: Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt

Featuring the voices of: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Brendan Gleeson and Brian Blessed

Length: 88 mins

****

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