By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Available for streaming on CBC
Once when the word pirate is uttered, most people will think about the romance of sailing upon the high seas and catching sight of raging sunrises. These folks lived a scoundrel’s life and the only law they obeyed by was their own. Truth be told, life was not always rough; there’s more to how they endured for centuries than in how they are portrayed in cinema. In what one person values as property can become a ransom for high dollars under the right situation. In Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) animated film, Pirate’s Passage, that idea is played for high stakes.
Based on William Gilkerson’s book of the same name, this story looks at the life and times of Charles Johnson (Donald Sutherland), a former pirate who escapes one era only to appear in the next to reclaim his treasure. Maybe he’s like the Wandering Jew, but details to his origins are evasive. He meets the reincarnation of a troubled boy from long ago and although he could not help him back then, he does something in present day to aid Jim (Gage Munroe), as his family faces problems. At school, he’s being bullied and at home, his widowed mother (Carrie-Anne Moss), who runs a local inn, faces similar pressure from an investor who wants to turn their cozy home into a world-class hotel.
Through thought experiments into “time travel,” the tales Johnson recounts at the fireplace sends both him and Jim back to experience the glory days of a pirate’s life around the fictional community of Grey Rocks, Nova Scotia. What they feel and what the audience sees may well be potentially real, and it’s only when they are interrupted in the real world do they snap back. There are lessons being taught to Jim to help him gain useful life skills to deal with his present situation. They are even useful to youths watching this program. As a charming sailor, the character Donald Sutherland plays shows that there is more to him than just playing villainous roles in recent films like The Hunger Games.
His soothing voice works well to play against the stereotypical pirate mold, and the presentation of how life aboard a ship works is different than in what Hollywood presents. Gilkerson is an authority in Maritime lore and to see his work adapted to screen will certainly dispel a lot of myths cinema made up about pirates.
“Democracy is for all the people,” said Johnson. On a ship, everyone plays an important role and have an equal say. Some of them operate more like Robin Hoods than Blackbeards and that says a lot about how many kinds of pirates exist around the world.
At least in Canada, they served a common purpose. Did they bury any gold on Oak Island, or was that the work of the Knights Templar? Were the Vikings involved? The mystery may never get answered. At least the money invested, a modest 3 million (Canadian) to animate this production shows how much time was invested. The rustic animation style evokes a sense of a time gone by, where nothing either advances or regresses. The quality will have some viewers fondly recalling the films of Rankin-Bass, like Flight of Dragons. In truth, Pip Animation Services (The Secret World of Og) helped create this movie. Hopefully more adaptations of well known Canadian children’s books will be developed because the products this network makes often have the hallmarks of recalling fond times and getting cozy with an old friend. And in order to be able to pass through Pirate’s Passage, that’s the only way to get through it safely.
3½ Stars out of 5