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'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' is perfect for kids and parents

"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" was made using stop-motion animation. Credit: Sony Pictures

You may laugh more than the child who brought you to "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," a subtly screwball animated comedy with a distinctively British wit. Packed with meta-jokes and think-fast historical references, "Pirates!" will come as a brainy, zany treat for parents, though kids may feel their hair rustle as the literate one-liners sail over their heads.

Based on a novel by screenwriter Gideon Defoe and claymated by the geniuses at Aardman ("Wallace & Gromit"), "Pirates!" is basically a family-friendly version of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," with the knights transformed into seafarers.

Among the self-spoofing characters are Pirate With a Scarf (Martin Freeman), Albino Pirate (Anton Yelchin) and Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen), whose obvious identity remains a mystery to everyone but us. Their leader, Pirate Captain, played by a pitch-perfect Hugh Grant in his first animated feature, owes more than a little to Graham Chapman's vain, clueless King Arthur.

The plot centers on the 1837 Pirate of the Year Award, a trade-association honor typically won by flashier, more booty-ful types (listen for Salma Hayek and Jeremy Piven in small roles). This year, when a captured Charles Darwin (David Tennant) points out that the ship's weird-looking parrot is actually an extinct dodo, the Captain becomes the latest toast of London. But this also draws unwanted attention from Queen Victoria, an iron-corseted psychopath with the hilariously unhinged voice of Imelda Staunton.

Any movie in which our hero shoves aside the Elephant Man to grab the spotlight is clearly not typical kids' fare, though viewers of any age will appreciate the wonderfully expressive animation and imaginative slapstick (the sequence in London's Royal Society is almost worthy of the Marx Brothers).

If you've served any time with dancing penguins or unfunny chipmunks, think of "Pirates!" as your reward.

PLOT The adventures of a clueless pirate captain, his obese parrot and Charles Darwin. RATING (some rude humor)

CAST Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Martin Freeman.

LENGTH 1:28.

PLAYING AT Area theaters, some in 3-D.

BOTTOM LINE This brainy, zany treat may have adults laughing harder than kids, though the inventive claymation should please all viewers.

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