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January is rarely the month of the year that comes to mind for quality family films, but the creative minds at Big Idea, home to the Christian-based animated VeggieTales franchise, buck that trend with the unspooling of Universal’s “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie.”
Following 2002’s theatrical feature “Jonah” plus innumerable direct-to-video offerings and a TV series, “Pirates” scores with adventure, humor and a morality tale rather than a standard biblical message. Cannily riding the wave of Disney’s blockbuster pirate trilogy, and borrowing heavily as well from Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” and others, this briskly paced voyage should bring the pre-tween set aboard.
Like “Jonah,” the new film is framed by a contemporary story, but the framing is more polished than that first feature six years ago. Set “somewhere in the 17th century,” we meet Prince Alexander and Princess Eloise, just as their ship is attacked by their jealous, peg-legged uncle Robert the Terrible and his pirates. A feisty Alexander is kidnapped, and, interestingly, he is held captive — and contributes virtually nothing — for the remainder of the story.
It is Eloise, with her Franklin Pangborn-like butler-sidekick Willory, who propels the entire action. Via a magic ball, three dinner-theater waiters in the present-day are plopped into the past to assist Eloise: timid Elliot (played by VeggieTales regular Larry the Cucumber), lazy Sedgewick (VeggieTales’ gourd, Mr. Lunt) and unsung family man George (Pa Grape).
The five battle obstacles — including the Island of Walking Rocks — and encounter a few energetic musical interludes (the B-52’s’ “Rock Lobster” becomes a rousing closing-credits bonus video, “Rock Monster”).
The crew features the usual Big Idea names. This time, co-founders Mike Nawrocki and Phil Vischer produce (with Paula Marcus), Nawrocki directed and Vischer scripted. Each man provides at least a half-dozen of the lead voices. Computer animation and tech credits overall are excellent.
THE PIRATES WHO DON’T DO ANYTHING: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE
Big Idea/Entertainment Rights Group
Director: Mike Nawrocki
Screenwriter: Phil Vischer
Producers: Paula Marcus, Phil Vischer, Mike Nawrocki, David Pitts
Executive Producers: Mike Heap, Jane Smith, Terry Pefanis
Production designer: Charles Vollmer
Music: Kurt Heinecke
Editor: John Wahba
George, Sedgewick, Willory, Sir Frederick, Mr. Hibbing, Bob the Tomato, Pirate Spy, Pirate Philippe Pea: Phil Vischer
Elliot, Pirate Jean Claude Pea, Theater Foe, Pirate Spy Sidekick, Pirate With Dummy, Rock Monster Father: Mike Nawrocki
Robert the Terrible, the King: Cam Clarke
Running time — 84 minutes
MPAA rating: G
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