Avast, ye landlubbers! For all fans of Disney pirates comes a tome tracing the history of the Walt Disney Company’s connection to piracy (and its many shiny rewards), Disney Pirates: The Definitive Collector’s Anthology. Released in conjunction with the fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, the book covers all film, television, and theme park pirates from 1925 to 2017.
An introduction by Johnny Depp kicks off the hardcover coffee table book and after an introduction, the first section covers Disney’s filmed pirates. This section is highly expansive, starting with an Alice Comedies short from the earliest days of the formation of the Disney Brothers Studios. As a Disney film buff, I was surprised to learn that Treasure Island originally intended to have animated yarns that Long John Silver would tell to young Jim Hawkins. It’s more than just a recounting of all of these films, but actually reveals behind the scenes aspects. This section also includes an interview with Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran that was conducted shortly before his passing, where he talks about making Swiss Family Robinson and a TV film called The Mooncussers. Other notable films discussed in this section include Peter Pan and its spin-offs, Blackbeard’s Ghost, Shipwrecked, and the Treasure Island remakes (the Muppet version and Treasure Planet).
The next section covers the creation of the classic Disneyland attraction, which has already been expertly documented by Imagineer Jason Surrell in Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies. However, this book has some insight to add with new interviews with costume designer Alice Davis. It also documents some changes to the attraction over the years, such as the women-chasing pirates and how the films changed the rides. It also touches on other related attractions, like Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island, Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Swiss Family Treehouse.
Being written by Publicist Michael Singer, who worked on all five Pirates films for Jerry Bruckheimer, a little over half of the book documents the production of the franchise with an emphasis on Dead Men Tell No Tales (or Salazar’s Revenge for countries outside of North America). A photo gallery of Jerry Bruckheimer’s personal behind-the-scenes images from all five films is included in this next section. It’s very revealing about how the first film came to be and how Bruckheimer and Depp became involved. Readers will gain a deep appreciation for the monumental task of bringing these stories to life, although diehard fans who have consumed every DVD bonus feature will find that there is little new information to be gleamed regarding the first four films.
The pages pertaining to Dead Men Tell No Tales are very interesting, with technological changes allowing the production to mostly avoid sea days, while still requiring full-sized ships to be constructed on gimbals to simulate ocean voyaging. It dives deep into the story, casting, costuming, and visual effects and it’s surprising to read that principal photography wrapped almost two years before the film’s release with a very long post-production schedule.
The final section covers Treasure Cove at Shanghai Disneyland, which draws more inspiration from the film franchise than it does the original Disneyland attraction. It feels a little disjointed coming at the end of the book rather than in the theme parks section, but I believe the writer’s intention was to make it feel more like an epilogue since the land is such a product of the films. Quotes from Imagineer Luc Mayrand bring the land to life on the pages with concept art and photos. Readers will instantly want to either book a trip to Shanghai or log on to YouTube to watch some first person ride-throughs.
I have just two criticisms of Disney Pirates: The Definitive Collector’s Anthology. The first is that it ends abruptly without a concluding section that gives reader’s closure and makes them feel like they’ve just been on an adventure. The second is that it teases that more Pirates franchise films are possible, even though the fifth film has an ending that feels final and marketing even referred to it as “The Final Adventure.” But putting that aside, Disney fans hoping to become experts on all of Disney’s pirate-related efforts will gain an Archivist’s level of knowledge on all things Disney Pirates.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.