Loosely based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, 1982’s The Pirate Movie starred Kristy McNichol as mousey young Mabel lost in a dream of swashbuckling, and singing, pirates. After an accident leaves her thrown overboard and washed up on a beach, Mabel’s imagination creates a fantasy world casting herself as the youngest daughter of a Major-General (Bill Kerr) who falls for a young pirate named Frederic (Christopher Atkins) adamant on leaving his service of the Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) to start a new life.
The plot, which involves Fredric’s attempt to leave his old life behind while trying to stay true to his word and duty, is secondary to how insanely everything is played including some memorable music numbers such as “Pumpin’ and Blowin'” (you can find the video for the song below). I’ll be honest, the film doesn’t work as well for me as it did when I was seven years-old, but it still provides enough enjoyment for me to classify it as a guilty pleasure.
To call The Pirate Movie cheesy doesn’t do it justice. This is intentionally deep-fried cheese with an extra helping of cheese dipping sauce. It’s the kind of movie where a character all the sudden has a lightsaber, or will make random 80’s pop culture references, and none of the people in Mabel’s real world (which was shot and takes place in a sleepy seaside community of Australia obsessed with pirates) speak with an Australian accent. Although the film was considered both a box office and critical failure, it has become something of a cult favorite for those, like me, who remember seeing the film as children in the theater or on HBO where it played constantly in the mid-1980’s.
The acting is consistently over-the-top and Hamilton hams it up with delight in providing the film with its corny villain. Atkins’ range appears to be limited from lovestruck to confused to depressed, but the actor (best known for his role in The Blue Lagoon two years earlier) does manage to hold his own in the performances of 80’s love songs. McNichol, even stuck with an unflattering hairdo, provides the film with a spirit and energy that helps keep things moving during the movie’s slower moments and proves she can hold her own with the musical numbers as well.
Recently re-released on DVD (it had been out of print for several years) the one-disc set includes the film’s original trailer as well as commentary from director Ken Annakin who discusses the inspiration for the film (which include Grease) and the choices which went into creating this 80’s version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical. Those with a nostalgic feel for the movie are more likely to enjoy themselves than anyone seeking it out for the first time, but for those who enjoy a ridiculous cheesy guilty pleasure from time to time this one may be a look.