THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS directed by Peter Lord, co-directed by Jeff Newitt, written by Gideon Defoe from his novel, with the voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and David Tennant. A Sony Pictures release. 88 minutes. Opens Friday (April 27). For venues and times, see Movies.
Peter Lord is eating like a pirate.
As he tours North America promoting The Pirates! Band Of Misfits, the veteran animator - co-owner and creative director of England's Aardman Animation, home of the Wallace & Gromit films, Chicken Run and last winter's Arthur Christmas - has been making a point of seeking out the least healthy local dishes.
In Philadelphia, just hours earlier, he sampled two different kinds of cheesesteaks, and now in Toronto, while his movie plays for a delighted TIFF Kids Fest crowd, he's having poutine for dinner, with a bottle of Keith's on the side.
Lord's been walking around with the attitude of a lusty, larger-than-life and rather silly pirate for a couple of years now - an occupational hazard of making a pirate movie. Everything's bigger than it ought to be; even the stop-motion puppets were about twice the size they'd usually be for an Aardman production.
"It's because they're pirates, you know?" he laughs, putting his fork down to chat. "You don't want it too big, but you want a lot of detail, because pirates seem to me to need belts and buckles and sashes and cuffs and stuff like that. So that's what dictated the size - that desire to make them look spectacular. Everything else followed from that."
The swashbuckling subject matter is nicely suited to the mentality of Aardman Animation. As in Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit films and Chicken Run, which Lord co-directed, there's a delight in random sight gags and twists of dialogue that define a certain playfulness.
"That's a key word for me," Lord says. "I love anything, any art form that manages to be playful - that can be light on its feet and skip from thing to thing, that can surprise you and force a laugh out of you and engage you."
The hand-crafted sets of The Pirates! are packed with little oddities - and don't worry if you miss something, because most of them come back for the end-credit roll.
"There's tons to enjoy in the sets," Lord says. "Great things, funny things. It's very much in the tone and the spirit of the book, which is full of these astonishing, surprising sequences of ideas that the writer delights in, and we delight in. And then we decorate it further with all the signage and the comic items that are in the set."
Finding the right actors to voice his characters was just as important. When Lord decided Hugh Grant would be ideal for the role of the Pirate Captain, he spun up a few of the actor's earlier films, with a particular focus on About A Boy, to get a feel for his range.
Grant still had to audition, though.
"I knew he could do all those little emotional things with his lines," Lord says. "But I didn't know if he could do them running up three stairs at a time while swinging a cutlass."