So, I first discovered this movie back in the summer of 2015. I was with my Mom and few of my brothers and sisters looking around the local library, and I happened to come across a copy of it on the shelf. Since I didn’t have anything else on my plate and I like musicals I thought it might be fun.
I took it home and watched it with some of the family. And was almost in tears of laughter by the time it was over. Granted, I’m a guy who likes to laugh a bit more often than is probably good for me—I have frequent cases of euphoria-induced hypoxia, or lightheadedness and headaches due to lack of oxygen from laughing too hard—but still it was a genuinely funny movie.
By now you might be thinking, what exactly is Pirates of Penzance? Well, most of you have probably heard the names Gilbert & Sullivan at some point but for those of you who haven’t here’s the basic 411. W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were two English composers that worked on a series of comedic operas back between 1871 and 1896, right at the height of the Victorian Era. Pirates of Penzance was one of their most popular musicals and chances are that you’ve heard some form of their music in your life. Example: “I am the very model of a modern Major General” is a major music piece from this musical.
There have been a couple adaptations of the Pirates of Penzance musical, including one simply titled The Pirate Movie! (1982) and a german version made in 1968 called Die Piraten. However, I know little about these earlier versions and so my review will not involve them.
The Pirates of Penzance follows a pretty simple premise. A pirate apprentice in Victorian England has just been released from his duties to the titular pirate band, now that he has turned 21. Having been apprenticed to the band accidentally, he resolves to them that once he returns to shore, he will see that they are hunted down as all pirates should be. However, upon his arrival he comes upon the seven daughters of an utterly incompetent major general and falls in love with one of them. The pirates, on a raid, come across them and hijinks ensue.
The film itself is very silly and is based on a 1980 broadway play. Part of what makes it so funny, I found, is that even for a film based on a play that was intended to be a comedy, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It simply revels in the ridiculousness of what is going on and allows you to relax without trying to follow it too closely. Even the designs of the sets give the impression of being filmed on a broadway stage and while it’s not a cinematic masterpiece, that’s not what it was trying to be. The whole thing has a silly whimsical attitude that you can find in everything from the acting to the lighting and set design, and makes for a much more easy-going watching atmosphere.
That said, it does follow a certain brand of humor that is more implied than outright stated. Many of the jokes and lines are straight from the original play and will likely have you scratching your head trying to figure them out if you’re not familiar with that humor. For that reason I do recommend watching it with subtitles, especially for the songs, as many of the jokes in them come and go extremely fast.
Speaking of songs, some of them do tend to overstay their welcome a bit, dragging on much longer than I would personally have liked(Yes, I’m looking at you Linda Rondstadt). However, the filmmakers seem to realize this and do manage make a bit of a joke out of it. Overall though, the songs are very entertaining and witty and’ll have you running for google in most of them.
Acting wise this film does have some real great talent—at least for an 80s movie—and the entire cast pulls off some monumental singing bits with such energy that they will have you wanting to cheer by the time those numbers end. Angela Lansbury—Mrs. Potts from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—is also present for some fun numbers but doesn’t get as much to do as I might have liked. The real star of the show though, is Kevin Kline as the Pirate King.
At the time this was only his second major movie but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. He embodies the energy of the cast that I mentioned earlier. Even when he isn’t the focus of a scene, he still manages to make you laugh simply because of the glee with which he does everything in this movie.
All in all this is a fun movie. Is it silly? Yes. Is it corny and ridiculous? Definitely, but that is all part of its charm. Many movies are silly and corny and don’t work because they want us as audience members to believe that they are supposed to be taken seriously when they don’t believe seriously in their own product. Pirates works because it knows it’s silly and everyone in the film embraces the silliness, making it easier for us as the audience to embrace it as well.
Is it the funniest movie ever? No. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. I’d even go so far as to say it requires a second viewing if you want to get the most out of the experience. If you like some old-school humor in a stage-play package with some fun well-written songs as an entrée I’d recommend checking this one out. You can probably get it from Amazon or rent it from Netflix if you don’t want to keep it.
Next week: We take a look at the “merc with a mouth” and just what exactly he plans on doing with that mouth of his, with 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool.