Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action edition. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Year: 2003

Source materials: based on the attraction at the Disney Parks 1


Budget: $140 million

Box office: $654.3 million

Plot: In the early 1700s, while sailing to Port Royal, Jamaica, aboard HMS Dauntless, Governor Weatherby Swann, his daughter Elizabeth, Joshamee Gibbs, and Lieutenant James Norrington encounter a shipwreck and recover a boy, Will Turner. Elizabeth discovers a golden pirate medallion around his neck, and keeps it in order to protect him.


Eight years later, Norrington is promoted to commodore and proposes to Elizabeth. Her corset makes her faint and fall into the sea, which causes her medallion to emit a pulse. Captain Jack Sparrow comes to Port Royal to commandeer a ship, and rescues Elizabeth. Norrington identifies Jack as a pirate, and a chase ensues. Jack encounters Will, now a blacksmith and swordsman. They duel, and Jack is captured and imprisoned.



That night, the Black Pearl attacks Port Royal in search of the medallion. The crew of the Pearl capture Elizabeth, taking her to meet Captain Barbossa. Elizabeth claims her last name is Turner to conceal her identity as the governor’s daughter. She learns that her medallion is one of 882 gold pieces that Barbossa’s crew took from a treasure of Hernán Cortés on Isla de Muerta. An Aztec curse condemns them to become undead corpses under moonlight and with immortality but unable to enjoy anything, until they return all of the pieces and atone in blood, with the medallion being the final piece. Barbossa takes her prisoner, believing her to be the daughter of William “Bootstrap Bill” Turner, whose blood is needed to lift the curse.


Will frees Jack to rescue Elizabeth, whom Will loves. Jack, the original captain of the Black Pearl before Barbossa staged a mutiny, gets assistance from Will to reclaim his ship. The two commandeer HMS Interceptor, a small and very fast sloop-of-war, and head for Tortuga. There, Jack enlists Gibbs to help them put together a crew. At Isla de Muerta, Will and Jack witness Barbossa sacrificing Elizabeth’s blood and the final gold piece. The curse is not lifted because Elizabeth does not carry the blood of Bootstrap Bill Turner. Bootstrap had been a crewmate of the Black Pearl before being thrown overboard by the crew for giving the medallion to Will. Will rescues Elizabeth and brings her to Interceptor, while Jack is captured by Barbossa and gets locked in the brig of the Pearl.


The Black Pearl pursues the Interceptor, taking Jack’s crew hostage and destroying the ship. Will makes a deal with Barbossa to release Elizabeth in exchange for his blood, but Barbossa exploits a loophole in the agreement, marooning Jack and Elizabeth on a nearby island. Elizabeth makes a smoke signal, and Norrington brings HMS Dauntless, a ship of the line, to rescue Elizabeth and arrest Jack. Elizabeth asks Norrington to return for Will, convincing him by accepting Norrington’s marriage proposal.


That night, the Dauntless arrives at Isla de Muerta. Jack plans to lure the pirates out to be ambushed by the crew of the Dauntless, but the plan goes awry when Barbossa’s crew covertly walks underwater to surprise-attack the Dauntless from below. Elizabeth escapes the Dauntless and frees Jack’s crew from the brig of the Black Pearl. They refuse to rescue Jack and Will, so Elizabeth sets out on her own while Jack’s crew departs aboard the Pearl.


Jack frees Will and duels Barbossa, while Elizabeth and Will fight off Barbossa’s crewmen Weatherby, Monk and Jacoby. Barbossa stabs Jack in the stomach, but the latter is revealed to be under the Aztec curse, having secretly taken a piece of gold from the chest of Cortés. Jack then shoots Barbossa, and Will drops both coins into the chest, with his and Jack’s blood on them. The curse is lifted, causing Barbossa to die from Jack’s gunshot; the rest of Barbossa’s crew, realizing that they are no longer immortal, surrender and are arrested by the Royal Navy.


At Port Royal, Jack is led to the gallows to be hanged for piracy. Elizabeth diverts Norrington’s attention and Will attempts a rescue, but Jack and Will are surrounded and held at gunpoint. Elizabeth intercedes and declares her love for Will, leaving Norrington crestfallen. Governor Swann pardons Will and gives his blessing for Elizabeth to marry him. Jack dives into the sea and escapes aboard the nearby Black Pearl, finally reclaiming the ship. Norrington permits Jack and the Pearl “one day’s head start” before initiating pursuit.

Background: In May 2002, Gore Verbinski signed on to direct Pirates of the Caribbean. He was attracted to the idea of using modern technology to resurrect a genre that had disappeared after the Golden Age of Hollywood and recalled his childhood memories of the ride, feeling the film was an opportunity to pay tribute to the “scary and funny” tone of it. The box office failure of The Country Bears made Michael Eisner attempt to shut down production of Pirates of the Caribbean. However, Verbinski told his concept artists to keep working on the picture, and when Eisner came to visit, the executive was astonished by what had been created.

At the first read-through, Depp surprised the rest of the cast and crew by portraying the character in an off-kilter manner. After researching 18th-century pirates, Depp compared them to modern rock stars and decided to base his performance on Keith Richards.Disney executives were confused, asking Depp whether the character was drunk or gay, and Michael Eisner even proclaimed while watching rushes, “He’s ruining the film!” Depp answered back, “Look, these are the choices I made. You know my work. So either trust me or give me the boot.”


The crew spent five months creating the cavern in which Barbossa and the Black Pearl crew attempt to reverse their curse, filling it with five feet of water, 882 Aztec coins, and some gold paint on the styrofoam rocks for more impressions of treasure. The crew also built the fortress at Port Royal in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, and Governor Swann’s palace was built at Manhattan Beach.

For budget reasons, the ships were built on docks, with only six days spent in the open sea for the battle between Black Pearl and Interceptor. Dauntless and Black Pearl were built on barges, with computer-generated imagery finishing the structures. Interceptor was a re-dressed Lady Washington, a full-scale replica sailing ship from Aberdeen, Washington. Each scene featuring the skeletons was shot twice: a reference plate with the actors, and then without them to add in the skeletons. The actors also had to perform their scenes again on the motion capture stage.

Music: The film score was composed by Klaus Badelt, while Hans Zimmer served as music producer. Seven other composers, including Geoff Zanelli and Ramin Djawadi, are credited for “additional music”.

Cast: Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbossa. Jonathan Pryce returns as Governor Swann

Johnny Depp 2 as Jack Sparrow.3 Depp’s first film role was in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Depp became a popular teen idol during the late 1980s, when he starred in 21 Jump Street. He appeared in films such as Edward Scissorhands, Benny and Joon, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Dead Man, Nick of Time, Donnie Brasco, The Brave, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Sleepy Hollow, Finding Neverland, Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Public Enemies, Alice in Wonderland, Rango, The Rum Diary, Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger, Into the Woods, Black Mass, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Murder on the Orient Express, Gnomeo & Juliet: Sherlock Gnomes, City of Lies, City of Lies, Richard Says Goodbye, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Orlando Bloom as Will Turner. He made his breakthrough as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings. He appeared in Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, The Three Musketeers. He currently stars in the Amazon Prime Video series Carnival Row.

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann. Knightley made her breakthrough with Bend It Like Beckham. She then starred in Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, The Duchess, A Dangerous Method, Anna Karenina, Colette, The Imitation Game, Begin Again, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Everest. Jack Davenport as Norrington. He is best known for his roles in the television series This Life and Coupling. He has also appeared in other Hollywood films, such as The Talented Mr. Ripley. More recently, he appeared in FlashForward and Smash, and took the lead role in the drama series Breathless.

Kevin R. McNally as Joshamee Gibbs. Film roles include The Spy Who Loved Me, Spice World, Sliding Doors, Johnny English, De-Lovely, The Phantom of the Opera, Scoop and Valkyrie. Lee Arenberg as Pintel. He appeared in guest roles in many shows including Perfect Strangers, Seinfeld, Tales from the Crypt, Arli$$, Friends, and Action. Arenberg has also guest starred on all the Star Trek spin-offs Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise. He starred as the regular character “Grumpy/Leroy” on Once Upon a Time.

Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti. He is known for playing Gareth Keenan in The Office and Orell in Game of Thrones, and is the creator and star of Detectorists. Zoe Saldana as Anamaria. She made her screen debut in an episode of Law & Order. Her film career began a year later with Center Stage. She appeared as Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek film series, as Neytiri in the Avatar film series, and as Gamora in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She also appeared in Constellation, Guess Who, Dirty Deeds, Premium and After Sex.

Critical Reception: Depp was nominated for Best Actor at the 76th Academy Awards, and the film also received nominations for Best Makeup, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.

  • James Berardinelli of ReelViews: “Pirates of the Caribbean belongs to Johnny Depp…Take away Depp, and you’re left with a derivative and dull motion picture.”
  • Roger Ebert acclaimed the performances of Depp and Rush, and particularly that “It can be said that [Depp’s] performance is original in its every atom. There has never been a pirate, or for that matter a human being, like this in any other movie… his behavior shows a lifetime of rehearsal.”
  • Kenneth Turan had a negative review, feeling it “spends far too much time on its huge supporting cast of pirates (nowhere near as entertaining as everyone assumes) and on bloated adventure set pieces,” despite having also enjoyed Depp’s performance.

Legacy: After the success of the films, the characters of Jack Sparrow and Barbossa were added to the ride as animatronic characters as well as images of Davy Jones, Blackbeard, and mermaids.


Jack Sparrow occasionally meets in the parks and appears in parades.


  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company offers clemency if Will agrees to search for Jack’s compass in a bid to find the Dead Man’s Chest—and inside, the heart of villainous Davy Jones—which would give Beckett control of the seas.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: To stand against the East India Trading Co., Will, Elizabeth, Barbossa, and the crew of the Black Pearl set out to rescue Captain Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones’ Locker.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Captain Jack Sparrow is on a quest to find the fabled Fountain of Youth and crosses paths with a former lover, Angelica. She forces Jack aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a ship captained by the infamous pirate Blackbeard, Angelica’s father. Both are also in search of the Fountain: Angelica to save her father’s soul, Blackbeard to escape a prophecy of his demise at the hands of a one-legged man.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: A group of ghostly Spanish Royal Navy soldiers led by Jack Sparrow’s old nemesis, Captain Armando Salazar, escape from the Devil’s Triangle, with the goal of killing every pirate at sea, including him. To survive, Jack seeks out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact whose owner can control the seas and break curses.

My take: Although I feel the series has diminishing returns, this first film is fantastic. It’s fun, action-packed. It has a terrific score. Depp created one of the most iconic characters of the Twenty-first Century

Available on Disney +?: The first four films are available.  The fifth one will be available later this year

Next Week:  Do you believe in miracles?