Who knew Queen Victoria was a fat, ugly buffoon who hated pirates but had a penchant for rare animals? And that each year pirates across the seven seas held a competition to see who could nab the most booty (of the gold doubloon variety)?

Apparently, the slightly off-kilter honchos at Aardman Animation (the home of Wallace and Gromit) did.

Written by Gideon Defoe, and based on two of his own books, The Pirates! Band of Misfits is as whimsical as anything to come from Aardman (and the studio even redeems itself somewhat for last year’s ‘meh’ Arthur Christmas). And though it slogs a bit here and there, there’s still enough going on to keep kids and their parents interested.

The Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant, though you’d never know it) is tired of always being the laughingstock of the skull-and-crossbones community, which includes Liz Cutlass (Selma Hayek), Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), and Peg Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry).

The Captain is ready to let his pirate career walk the plank until he stumbles on Charles ‘Chuck’ Darwin (David Tennant), who informs him that the Captain’s trusty parrot sidekick Polly is, in fact, a rare bird indeed.

From there the pirates (and Chuck) head off on an adventure that includes a rollicking trip in a bathtub, a Rubik’s cube, and a celebration of ‘Ham Nite’.

Co-directors and Aardman vets Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt remain true to the studio’s ‘look’, relying primarily on hand-sculpted claymation (thumbprints included!) to tell the story. For the first hour or so, the pace is brisk and fun, and the blink-and-you-miss-them jokes come fast and furious. But then, inexplicably, it slows down, and Pirates becomes slower that a mug-full of week-old grog. Don’t worry though… things pick up for the finale, wherein we learn the true, twisted reason for Vicky’s (er, Queen Victoria’s) fascination with Polly.

Defoe has a sharp Brit wit that may not resound especially well with some American audience members (especially the wee lads and lasses the movie’s for), but there are plenty of visual puns (we see the Captain’s runner-up ribbon for Best Anecdote About a Squid) to keep things light and chuckle-worthy.

No, Pirates isn’t as clever as Wallace and Gromit or as fast-paced and entertaining as Aardman’s award-winning 2000 feature Chicken Run, but by and large it works. It may not be (or earn) a chest full of shiny booty, but no one should be sent to Davy Jones’ locker for it.

3/5 stars