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Pirates! Band of Misfits 

Rollicking animated adventures on the high seas and the streets the London

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From Aardman Studios (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run) comes this stop-action-animated tale of pirates, directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt. As the title suggests, a particularly motley crew of pirates are vying to have their captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) win the Pirate of the Year award. The gang reckons they've found their ticket, when they seize the HMS Beagle, and its passenger Charles Darwin (David Tennant) declares their "parrot" mascot to be a valuable dodo. (I'm not saying the kiddies aren't going to enjoy the film, but jokes about gout and John Merrick are gonna go right over their precious heads. At the screening, I heard more adults laughing than children.)

Despite the focus on pirates, most of the action occurs on land, in particular, London, where the pirate captain runs afoul of Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton). Still, the dense urban setting lets the filmmakers work in all sorts of sight gags, and even a frantic action scene or two. Less developed is the pirate competition that seemed lazily anachronistic and featured the bane of nearly every animated kids' movie: the hyper-sexualized female character. (Or maybe the occasionally lady pirate did dress like a video vamp?)

It's all bright and colorful, and will be another landmark in the curious transforming of pirates into cuddly fun people. (For example: Al Roker lends his voice to the generically named "Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens.") A seemingly more calculated venture than the Wallace series, but it should be a fun outing for the whole family. And perhaps it will inspire some useful conversations about evolution on the car ride home. In 3-D in selected theaters. Starts Fri., April 27.

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