Saltier than a pack of dry-roasted peanuts and nearly as nutty, Aardman’s animation Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (out now on DVD and Blu-ray, fact fans) is filled with more seafaring secrets than a chest full of buried treasure. Easter eggs abound as Pirate Captain and his crew ‘terrorise’ at least a few of the seven seas with their buccaneering ways. Here’s a few to keep a telescope out for.
The apothecary shelf on the Pirate Ship is a dangerous place to delve even for a scurvied seadog. “The levels of detail on the walls behind them tells you all about the secret life of pirates,” explains Lord in his director’s commentary. “The fact that they have one shelf marked ‘Medicine and Poison’ seems apt.”
This paradise for pirates is twinned with Weston-Super-Mare, a Somerset town with very few pirates to call its own.
One of the categories on the Pirate Of The Year form is ‘Brian Blessed’, the voice, as chance would have it, of the Pirate King in the movie. Meta, eh?
Voiced by Brendan Gleeson, Pirate With Gout has an accessory that will be familiar to boys and girls of a certain age. “That badge belongs to a TV show called Blue Peter”, recalls Lord, “a show that all kids were brought up with”. This ham-loving pirate also has a thing for pork scratchings – this is not a film for pigs – which might explain the whole gout thing.
Pirate Captain’s miniscule reward (“12 doubloons and a free pen”), the source of much mirth for his rivals, was a gag lifted straight from Gideon Defoe’s novel. Black Bellamy’s bounty, 50,000 doubloons (no pen), rather puts him in the shade.
An art fancier with an eye on own legend, Pirate Captain has adorned his cabin wall with a Velasquez-y portrait of himself clutching a dead swan. It’s called 'Why?'. “The captain loves to dramatise himself,” explains Lord.
This spoof on modern gossip mags – a kind of Hello! with seadogs – has run with a Blackbeard cover story and Pirate of the Year Award coverline.
“This is a tribute to the man who stands in Regent Street with a yellow ‘Golf Sale’ sign,” laughs the director.
As Lord sheepishly admits, the motto of the Royal Society has been mildly tweaked. But then their real motto – ‘Nullius in Verba' (“Take nobody's word for it”) – isn’t quite as funny. Nor is the fruity emblem.
Who’s that at the Scientist of the Year Awards? Frankenstein’s monster! Not the Robert De Niro version.
A nifty nod to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as Pirate Captain prepares to unveil his great scientific ‘discovery’. That’s Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ being played by the most highly evolved ship’s (pri)mate in cinema.
One of Aardman’s most arcane references – to Opportunity Knocks creator Hughie Green – adorns one of the most Wallace & Gromit-like gadgets in the movie. The Clapham clap-o-metre is a punny triumph too.
“This funny little horse”, points out Lord, “referred to a picture of the Queen being led around on a Shetland pony led by John Brown, as played by Billy Connolly”.
A rum-soaked night at the Hook, Line And Sinker features a popular cameo from the Elephant Man himself, John Merrick. “It always gets a big laugh,” says Lord. In a happy twist, Merrick reappears later in the movie on the arm of Jane Austen.
Aardman’s other hapless hero pops up in a bling-covered cameo in Queen Victoria’s treasure trove, presumably dreaming of golden Wensleydale.
Black Bellamy accidentally brandishes this reference to Betty Slocombe from Are You Being Served? The double-entendreing old dear (“On the stroke of six, my pussy goes mad!”) had a cat called Tiddles in the ‘70s sitcom.
When Pirate Captain bumps into him on a park bench, hobo Charles Darwin is sporting a West Ham scarf.
Queen Victoria’s vessel, the Q.V.1, is a significant upgrade on the QE2. For one thing, it’s got the Royal Pavilion from Brighton stuck on the top. It’s basically Silent Running at sea.
If Queen Vic’s dinner menu reads like the WWF endangered list, that’s because it is the WWF endangered list. “We went through a list of endangered species to find them,” says Lord. Look out for the hairy-nosed wombat, snow leopard and Yangtze river dolphin.
“I like the fact that the Pirate King has come back in his shell again”, chuckles Lord of the pirate’s Elvis-like monarch, “as if he always travels by shell”.