Preview: Sutherland’s magical Pirate’s Passage sails onto the small screen

There’s no better way to learn about history than to be immersed in it. Literally. That’s what young Jim learns when Captain Charles Johnson sails into his life in Pirate’s Passage.

Based on the Governor General’s Literary Award-winning novel of the same name by William Gilkerson of Mahone Bay, N.S., CBC’s Sunday night animated TV-movie was produced, co-written and voiced by Donald Sutherland. Sutherland and Brad Peyton (Republic of Doyle) have weaved an entertaining story and, paired with exceptional animation from Sheridan College grads Jamie Gallant and Mike Barth, created one heck of a good time. (Check out the teaser below.)

Sutherland voices Captain Charles Johnson, a scallywag who magically jumps from the 18th century to 1952 Grey Rocks, N.S., where he sails ashore and befriends 12-year-old Jim (Gage Munroe, PAW Patrol). Jim has been assigned a school project on pirates, so Capt. Johnson’s arrival is fortuitous. Jim learns first-hand about pirates through the old codger’s stories, detailed adventures that not only entertain Jim (and viewers) but also educate via a stop amid the Vikings and a visit with Calico Jack (Paul Gross, Slings & Arrows). (Jim does, after all, have to learn enough to win over his teacher.) He’s also educated in how to handle bullies. Jim’s mother, Kerstin (Carrie-Anne Moss), learns that too; she’s battling with the town’s most powerful man, Roy Moehner (Kim Coates, Sons of Anarchy), who wants to buy her ramshackle inn and turn it into a luxury location.

Other Canadian actors voicing characters in Pirate’s Passage include Gordon Pinsent as the town barber, Megan Follows as saucy Meg O’Leary and Colm Feore as Jim’s father.

The A-list talent is almost outperformed by the animation, which takes on the effect–to me at least–of watercolour paintings on the move. Flying snow and seagulls a blurred shapes in the sky and piles of melting snow are smears of white on top of green grass. The characters move amid a cool palette of colour highlighted by stunning greys the make up the churning sea off the coast of fictional Grey Rocks.

I’ve never read Gilkerson’s book, but thanks to Sunday’s flick, I’m going to.

Pirate’s Passage airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC.