A strange credit in The Pirate Movie succinctly sums up the surreal miscalculation behind the film. It reads "Additional lyrics for Gilbert & Sullivan songs by Trevor Farrant." Needless to say, Farrant's sassy new lyrics fail to improve on Gilbert & Sullivan's originals, just as The Pirate Movie cannot in good conscience be considered superior to boring old Pirates Of Penzance. However, that hasn't kept the film from cultivating a devoted cult following over the past two decades, especially among 13-year-old girls—or, for that matter, the 13-year-old girl in everyone. Which seems fitting, since The Pirate Movie suggests what Gilbert & Sullivan's original would look and sound like if it were rewritten by a boy-crazed middle-schooler who'd rather drool over John Travolta in Grease for the 50th time than suffer through anything close to opera.
The 1980s' third and least faithful Penzance adaptation casts Kristy McNichol as an ostracized tomboy who loses herself in an elaborate fantasy world where she finds love with a dashing young pirate (male starlet Christopher Atkins) eager to go straight. Atkins' lusty pirate mentor (Ted Hamilton) seems reluctant to let his young charge go, forcing McNichol and Atkins to defend both the home front and the purity of McNichol's sisters from Hamilton and his merry band of marauders.
Though not quite as enjoyably awful as it should be, The Pirate Movie is nevertheless a strange beast whose faithfulness exists in a state of constant flux. Sometimes the film works as an essentially straight Gilbert & Sullivan adaptation, but at other times, director Ken Annakin seems to be remaking The Blue Lagoon, with Atkins romping shirtlessly around the beach for much of the film. In his engagingly daft commentary, geriatric Disney vet Annakin admits that he looked to Lagoon for inspiration, but he seems similarly indebted to Grease, which seems the transparent source for the film's multiple soft-focus romantic montages, drippy love songs, and final production number. Today, much of the film's appeal is predicated on its status as ripe '80s cheese. Ironically, though, its sense of humor seems curiously contemporary, rooted as it is in scatological gags, winking asides, and pop-culture references (Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark) so obvious that even the dimmest seat-plugger can feel in on the joke. If The Pirate Movie didn't exist, the tidal wave of '80s nostalgia embodied by VH1's endless retro orgies would have to create it from scratch, but its eagerness to pander to general audiences marks it as disturbingly prescient in this age of Shrek and Scary Movie.