It is a Canadian animated adventure based on a novel of the same name. Set in a sea port town in Nova Scotia in the 1950s it tells the story of a mysterious sailer who bares a striking resemblance to an infamous pirate who died several centuries ago. He arrives unannounced in the small town of Grey Rocks and befriends the son of a windowed inn-keeper. With an unexplained supernatural ability to recount historical sea-faring stories (with absolute clarity) the old man sets about helping the young boy and his mother to fend off the bully-tactics of a wealthy landlord. The old man's motive remains ambiguous, however there is clearly a reason for his arrival, and the Grey Rocks Inn holds the key unlocking the mystery.
PIRATE'S PASSAGE is something special. It is an animated film with a strong focus on story, and so good is the screenplay that it could have just as easily been a live-action film. It turns out to be a passion-project of Donald Sutherland, who was first gifted the novel by Matthew McConaughey in 2008. Upon reading the book he immediately read it again and within a matter of weeks he had set about turning into a film. As well as staring in the film he also produced it and wrote the screenplay... and the result is one of the most understated and sincere animated films I have seen in a long time.
The animation itself is pristine with a combination of traditional cell animation and carefully blended computer composites. The foggy sea-port atmosphere is captured beautifully with lovely washed out colours and a subtlety orchestrated sound design. Combine the visual excellence with equally strong dialogue and you end up with a film that recalls the darker films of Disney as well as that wonderful era when director Don Bluth dominated the animation world with his gritty flair for storytelling.
Donald Sutherland's stamp is all over the film too, which is evident in the less-is-more approach to the dialogue. The characters only talk when it is necessary for them to do so. Every word spoken is a means to developing the characters and progressing the narrative, and the material isn't dumbed dumbed down for children. The adults cuss and there is no shortage of rum (which is freely offered to the child protagonist), and themes of murder and treachery are addressed with an unadulterated directness that adds to the film's integrity. An avid Sutherland fan might also be perceptive to some of his cheeky potty humour, which is very nicely dropped in for good measure.
If you have Netflix then do yourself a favour and watch PIRATE'S PASSAGE. It's a hell of a lot better than PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and it will cast your mind back to a time when family-friendly animation was risky.