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Toon Talk: Pirates of the Caribbean
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by Kirby Holt (archives)
July 11, 2003
Kirby reviews Disney summer live-action release Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

(c) Disney

Pirates of the Caribbean:
The Curse of the Blace Pearl
Jolly Roger

“We’re rascals, scoundrels, villains and knaves -
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!
We’re devils and black sheep, really bad eggs -
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!
Yo ho, yo ho!
A pirate’s life for me!?

Disneyland visitors have been thrilled and enthralled by the classic Audio Animatronic attraction The Pirates of the Caribbean ever since those lyrics were first sung 36 years ago. One of the most popular rides in theme park history, Pirates was, and still is, a masterpiece in atmospheric style and immersive storytelling.

So it was with some hesitation that die-hard Disney fans greeted the news that their beloved buccaneers would be brought to live action life by the baron of the bombastic blockbuster, Jerry Bruckheimer, the man behind such noisy, bigger then life testosterone fests as Top Gun, Con Air and Armageddon. Would the movie retain the nostalgic spirit of the ride? How closely would it adhere to the familiar storyline? Would it at least include its signature theme song? And, most importantly, would it be better then the embarrassingly insipid Country Bears movie of last year?

The answers to those questions are mostly in the affirmative, for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is an exciting E ticket of a summer movie, filled with awesome visual effects, richly detailed scenery and costumes, lush cinematography, an appropriately stirring score (which, yes, does surprisingly include several reprises of “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)?) … and not a guy in a bear suit in sight.

Based loosely on the already loose narrative of the original attraction, the film retains several key visual images and vignettes that will please casual viewers and purists alike, such as the jailhouse dog scene and a pirate’s galleon attack on a seaside military fort. But the film’s coup de grace is its imaginatively original take on the swashbuckling skeletons that inhabit the ride: after stealing a cursed treasure, the crew of the Black Pearl (the fastest, most dreaded pirate ship of the Seven Seas) are now immortal … but with a catch. When they step into the moonlight, their true forms … decaying skeletons, an ossified army of the walking dead … are revealed. With no physical way to satisfy their carnal desires, the only way to break the spell is to return all of the tainted treasure back to its original resting place.

(c) Disney

The plot is set in motion when the final piece of eight is found in the possession of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the comely daughter of the local governor (Jonathan Pryce) and unrequited true love of upstanding blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). The Black Pearl’s crafty Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) kidnaps Elizabeth, leaving Will to recruit scraggly scalawag Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to rescue the fair maiden.

Spending equal times crossing swords and chewing scenery, Rush and Depp bring quirky, unexpected life to what could have been stock caricatures. Oscar-winner Rush, with jaundiced eyes and a throaty croak of a voice, embodies Barbossa with a creepily cunning menace, while Depp, all mincing ticks and devilish glints, plays his role as only the actor who brought you Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Ichabod Crane could: as close to over-the-top as possible without plunging into the bottomless pit of out-right camp. This leaves Bloom (so enigmatic as the elfin Legolas in the Lord of the Rings films) scrambling for whatever heroic dignity he can muster, which he ably manages, while Knightley fiercely plays the heroine like the star she surely will become (although one must admit that her anti-damsel in distress character is becoming as clichéd as the fawning princesses they replaced).

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