What better life is there than that of a pirate? The sea at your back, golden treasure ripe for the taking, and countless adventures as far and wide as the horizon itself. It’s a charmed life, that of a pirate, and one that any man or women should be envious of. At any rate, that’s what the lovable crew of The Pirates! Band of Misfits happen to believe. This is a treat of a film, with enough cartoon action balanced out with clever writing to ensure it remains enjoyable by audiences of all ages.

At the height of the Victorian age, almost the entire world is under the rule of the wicked Queen Victoria. Despite having near-total control of the seven seas, only one small portion of the Caribbean remains out of reach. The reason? Pirates. And do these pirates care what the Queen thinks? Not one bit. These pirates only care about sword fights and plundering and sea shanties. To keep things interesting, each year the one pirate who best exemplifies these pirate-ly traits is given the prestigious “Pirate of the Year” award. The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) would like nothing more than to claim the prize, and year after year, better pirates have beaten him to it. This year is different though, and continued encouragement from his loyal Number Two (Martin Freeman) and their eccentric crewmates gives him more determination than ever. While out pirating, a chance encounter with Charles Darwin (David Tennant) reveals that the Pirate Captain’s beloved parrot Polly is actually the world’s last surviving dodo bird. Soon, an adventure begins to get the good Captain to London, win an annual science fair, claim the prize money, and get back to pirate waters just in time to claim the most coveted award in all of piracy.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is one of most clever and charming animated features to appear in theaters for quite some time. The film finds a pleasant balance between the emotional tug of a Pixar film, and the usual talking-animal fare that have been over saturating the big screen recently. Much of Pirates appeal is gained from its unique and humorous visual style. The film is mostly stop-motion animation, enhanced with additional elements of computer-generated imagery. The result is an appealing and refreshing style that stands out amongst other animated offerings. It avoids the gritty look of entirely stop motion films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline with its subtle usage of CG. It doesn’t end up looking entirely artificial, and still retains enough of the handcrafted appeal of traditional stop-motion.

It’s a good thing the filmmakers had such a measured control on the visual style of the film. It would have been a true shame to let a poor presentation detract from the endearing and downright hilarious characters that populate the story. Hugh Grant’s Pirate Captain is a terrific mix of childlike buffoonery and high seas swashbuckling. His deadpan delivery make’s each line truly seem like it’s coming from a mostly clueless, but still professional pirate, whether it’s reminiscing past adventures, or finding out for the first time that sea monsters are drawn on maps for decoration. Hugh Grant doesn’t hold up the entire film on his performance alone either. Each cast member delivers a fantastic performance, for all parts large and small. David Tennant’s read for Darwin is great as well, as he shifts from sneaky and slimy to sad and pitiable as quick as he bounces from line to line. Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek also lend their recognizable personas to some of The Pirate Captain’s biggest rivals, and turn two smaller characters into some of the funniest in the film. Fantastic turns by legendary actors Brian Blessed and Imelda Staunton deserve mentioning as well, as they lends their talents to The Pirate King and Queen Victoria, respectively. The fantastic ensemble of terrific voices serves to enhance an already wonderful script, and ensures that the acting still remains one of the greatest strengths in the film.

With plenty of self-referential humor poking fun at both pirate-isms and pirate movies in general, there’s no shortage of fun to be had throughout the entirety of The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Keeping in line with everything else that’s so endearing about the film is its 3-D presentation as well. Kids will enjoy the extra flare the 3-D provides, and audiences will appreciate the relaxed approach taken to the 3-D, rather than feel assaulted by the effect. All in all, Pirates can be heartily recommended to audiences of all kinds, it’s great for families, fun for couples, and downright enjoyable for everyone who favors a jolly-good silly time in the theater.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits opens in theaters everywhere Friday, April 27th.