Aardman’s fifth feature-length project is a richly detailed, mind-bogglingly clever piece of work, but it feels every bit as hand-moulded and tangibly squidgible as their earlier, half-hour Wallace and Gromit shorts. It doesn’t look expensive; nor does it look cheap. It just looks the way Aardman films should, which is glorious.
Victorian England is rendered in sets whose scope and detail are enhanced by CG, but computer effects are only noticeable where they nicely complement the animators' models -- in sea scenes, for instance, where realistic crashing waves enhance the thrill factor. Other technical touches, like lens curvature in shots through a pirate's spyglass, are more subtle but will delight viewers who appreciate craftsmanship.
It’s so, so very daft in such a clever way. Defoe’s way with words is equally elegant and random, the perfect match for Peter Lord’s skill with a visual gag. The screen is consistently filled with jokes to pick up on later. It’s got the humour of a sozzled, posh, elderly relative saying something enormously erudite and witty one second and then blathering bizarrely on about pigs being a type of fruit the next. It’s all so delightfully loose for something that requires such regimented precision to produce. One of the greatest pleasures is watching with the knowledge that the ridiculous aside, which had nothing to do with the story but will make you chuckle for weeks, took somebody many days of moving little models in tiny increments. It’s almost impossible not to adore that. ****
The world of the pirates is as much a character in the story with the action moving at a rate of knots between far-flung islands and a vividly realised 19th century London. It feels familiar and exotic all at once because the filmmakers aren't slaves to realism (as CGI toonists often are). In fact, it's that colourfully skewed vision of ye olde worlde that gives it so much charm. You'll be fully immersed - even without 3D glasses.
Although most auds won't notice, animation geeks will swoon over what Lord and Co. have accomplished technically. As in "Coraline," the use of 3D enhances the sculptural technique and lends itself well to dramatic lighting effects, but it never distracts, and the pic won't suffer a bit in 2D. Though the plasticine figures still have a pleasingly tactile, smushy quality, they're modeled with great subtlety; new methods of rendering mouth movements have enhanced verisimilitude, and the CG is used strategically to conquer always tricky materials like water and smoke.