THE KIDDIE audience might not recognize the voice of the Pirate Captain in "Pirates: Band of Misfits!" but it belongs to Hugh Grant.

Older viewers might not recognize it either — it's been three years since Grant has made a movie. His last was "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" Grant's one-billionth romantic comedy, and a project apparently so awful it soured him on movies completely.

Luring him back was a guy named Peter Lord, head of the Aardman Studios in England, the Claymation specialists known for "Wallace and Gromit," and their quirky British sense of humor.

Lord needed a British actor with comic chops, someone who could play, as the British say, a buccaneer "with a difference."

So he sent a copy of the script to Grant, who at that point, was mostly getting scripts for things like "The Morgans," and in self-imposed exile from silly rom-coms.

"His feeling was, [romantic comedy] is not a dignified pursuit for a 50-year-old man," said Lord, who stopped in Philadelphia recently to talk about the movie, which he directed from a script by Gideon Defoe, adapted from Defoe's comic novel about goofy pirates (led by Grant) meeting up with famous 19th century figures (in this case, Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria).

"Pirates" is not exactly dignified, but the idea of making an offbeat Aardman comedy pitched to all ages appealed to Grant.

"This was different than what he was being offered, and he really liked the script. I can say that, because I didn't write it," Lord said.

"He was fed up with doing the wrong sort of comedy, this has just the comedy part, and none of the wrong."

Grant liked the challenge vocal acting — he had to learn to project with his voice, something he wasn't used to in live-action film.

"Pirates do a lot of roaring, and that's something Hugh had to get used to."

Grant was also very game, Lord said, and he had to be. The Pirate Captain is an extensive part, requiring Grant to put in a calender-year's worth of studio work.

Of course, he had little else to do.

"Martin Freeman plays his second-in-command, and he turned out to be very hard to get hold of, because he's started to do 'The Hobbit,' playing Bilbo Baggins. But Hugh, he'd just be playing golf otherwise." n