Aardman is the only major animation studio still creating feature animation with traditional hand crafted techniques using clay (Claymation), and what has kept them being successful in the hugely competitive world of feature animated films dominated by computer graphics, is their unique looking visual style and the memorable characters with their very English sense of humor.
In the same way that Japan’s Studio Ghibli has carved out a niche for itself with their traditional but highly detailed and realistic 2D animation, Aardman has brought Claymation to a whole new level. The tactile look of the hand molded clay characters is so detailed and pleasing to the eye, that it gives you the feeling you’re watching three dimensional sculpted artwork that many talented artists have put their love and passion into. Their body of work consists of such renowned classics as the Wallace & Gromit shorts, Creature Comforts TV series (1989 – 2003), Chicken Run (2000), Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Flushed Away (2006), Arthur Christmas (2011) and Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012).
Aardman’s success in the field of Plasticine Claymation and storytelling has led to them being courted by the big Hollywood Studios. The lure of a partnership with the Hollywood big wigs however has been a double edged sword for the smaller independent artisans at Aardman, and the offer of bigger budgets and a wider audience has come at the price of less artistic freedom, which led to the compromising of its unique way of working. These were sacrifices that Aardman was not comfortable with and has led to some soul searching. But the lessons learned have cleverly been incorporated into the subtext of their subsequent films.
Take for example Aardman’s latest and most elaborate feature to date; The Pirates! Band of Misfits, also known as The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, in which the main plot of pirates competing for a ‘Pirate of the Year’ award clearly demonstrates how people’s ambition to win accolades or wealth leads them to compromise their humanity, the very essence of what made them unique in the first place.
Aardman has firsthand knowledge of this struggle when they partnered with DreamWorks. But after the computer generated film Flushed Away did away with the handcrafted look that Aardman is known for, they could no longer continue to work under the conditions and methods imposed by DreamWorks and have since opted to terminate that relationship citing creative differences. They currently have a new partnership with Sony pictures, who are known for producing such animated favorites as Monster House (2006), Open Season (2006), Surf’s Up (2007), and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009).
For The Pirates! Band of Misfits Aardman has returned to form with their stop-motion handmade clay modeling and increased the scale of their puppets to allow for even more detail to be shown instead of the shiny computer generated look that other studios seems to favor. The results, I must say, are quite breathtaking.
The story has a very British flavor with voices by such English favorites as Hugh Grant from Bridget Jones Diaries (2001) and About a Boy (2002), Martin Freeman from TV's The Office (2001 - 2003) and will be seen later this year playing Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit (2012) and Imelda Staunton from Vera Drake (2004) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), and follows the adventures of a band of motley Pirates who are all quite happy under the benevolent rule of their fun loving captain until he selfishly decides that winning the Pirate of the Year award is more important than the happiness of his crew.
There’s enough eye candy in this fun, light hearted film to make it worth the multiple viewings it will take in order to catch all the visual gags, and the kids will love it too. Get ready to give your video player a workout when it’s released on Blu-ray & DVD.