The "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies are, of course, greatly inspired by the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction that debuted at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, in 1967. It was the last attraction that Walt Disney himself was personally involved in (he died in 1966) and you can feel Walt in the attraction -- the humor, the playfulness, the commitment to technological innovation, and storytelling advancements. (These commitments carried over to the film series that bears the attraction's name.)
With the latest film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," opening in theaters this weekend, we thought we'd look back at some of the ways the films have paid homage to the attraction that now appears in almost every Disney Park around the world. (In the cyclical, highly synergized world of Disney, the films are now inspiring the ride, with Jack Sparrow and Barbossa making appearances in the original attraction and an entire "Pirates of the Caribbean"-themed land opening in Shanghai.) Yo ho, indeed.
Released in 2003, the first film in the series is also the one most heavily indebted to the original attraction, with a line from the attraction seeming to inspire the entire concept of the movie ("No fear have ye of evil curses, says you? Arrrgh ... Properly warned ye be, says I. Who knows when that evil curse will strike the greedy beholders of this bewitched treasure?"). Considering what an unknown quantity the property was, all involved probably though they'd only get one crack at this.
• That Teaser Poster
One of the very first images anybody saw for the movie based on the attraction was an image lifted directly out of the ride -- a skeleton grabbing a ship's steering wheel in the middle of a tropical rainstorm. (This was also, notably, before Michael Eisner had insisted on adding a dopey subtitle to the movie in an attempt to distance itself from the attraction. Now dopey subtitles are as much a staple of the franchise as pirates.) There are few images as iconic and as deeply associated with the attraction as that skeleton, and while there are many skeletons in the movie (and in the subsequent sequels), this sadly never makes it into any of the actual film.
• The Song
"Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" is the song sung in the original attraction (it was cooked up by X Atencio and George Burns, two longtime Imagineers) and it makes an appearance three times in the first film: in the opening sequence sung by a young Elizabeth Swann, then again by Elizabeth when she's marooned on the island with Jack Sparrow, and then by Jack himself in the final scene. This makes for a lovely bookend to the movie and a very awesome tip-of-the-pirate-hat to the original attraction. (Also, it's sung twice in the third film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," which serves as a nice button on the entire trilogy.)
• The Dog With the Keys
When Jack is locked away in a prison cell, several of the other prisoners try to bait a dog, who is clutching the keys to the jail in its mouth. This is another one of the most famous images from the original attraction. Something tells me that people who have never even ridden the ride will know this reference. And it makes for a very knowing bit of dialogue when Jack Sparrow comments that the dog is never going to move, since the dog in the attraction never does either.
• The Whole Tortuga Sequence
This is a smorgasbord of references to the "burning town" sequence in the original attraction, which includes (but is not limited to) the appearance of a redheaded wench ("We want the redhead!"), pirates firing off their pistols, and franchise stalwart Gibbs wallowing in the mud with some pigs. The general chaos and lunacy of the sequence seems to be a nod to the attraction and its anarchic humor.
• Barbossa Drinking Wine
There's a sequence early in the attraction where you float past a skeleton drinking wine, the wine running down its ribcage. The same thing happens with cursed pirate Barbossa in the film.
• The Isle de Muerta Sequence
There are a few references to the attraction in the sequence towards the end of the film where everyone is gathered at the Isle de Muerta, to return the cursed Mayan gold. The cavern filled with a towering pile of gold is definitely a nod to the "treasure room" sequence towards the end of the attraction, right before you go back up the waterfall, and there's an even more specific nod with the skeleton on the beach, surrounded by crabs, an image that appears much earlier in the Disneyland ride.
There are fewer references in Gore Verbinski's super-sized sequel, which is probably the only thing there are fewer of in this movie. Still, keen-eyed fans will spot some very pointed references to the original attraction and they are awesome.
• Tia Dalma's House
Towards the end of the movie, the pirates make their way down the Pantano River, where fireflies flicker overhead, Spanish moss hangs from the trees, and alligators snap in the water (I'm not sure if there are any actual snapping alligators in the movie but there should be). They creep up to an old shack where the voodoo witch lives, and everything about this sequence screams the "Blue Bayou" opening sequence at the Disneyland attraction. Even the tempo of that sequence, the way the boat gently drifts along and the air of melancholy, reminds you of that early moment in the attraction. What's interesting is that scene in the original attraction was supposed to set the stage for the attraction, since at that point you're still supposed to be in New Orleans Square, before getting rocketed to the Caribbean.
• Deleted Tortuga Material
There are a couple of moments set back at Tortuga, and they include material originally intended for the first film but included here. They also include references to the original attraction. Most notably there's a skinny man shivering nearby as a man is dunked in a well. If anyone says, that the movies are nothing like the attraction, please point them to this moment, which is a direct (and highly specific) homage.
The third film in the series, one of the strangest big-budget studio films ever released and the gloriously over-the-top cap to Gore Verbinski's original trilogy, has fewer references to the original attraction but that's because it's on its own wacky wavelength. Still, there are some nods.
• Down the Waterfall
In early drafts of the original film there was a sequence where Jack and Will go down a waterfall, a direct reference to the ride mechanics of the original attraction, which sees you start out in New Orleans before plummeting back in time to pirate-land. It was cut both for budgetary reasons and Eisner's increasing fears about being too connected to the attraction. But the waterfall sequence did end up in the third film in the trilogy. Not only does the pirate ship Hei Peng go down a waterfall to get to Davy Jones's Locker but the sequence is followed by a brief moment where the screen goes black and actual audio from the original attraction is heard. It's all so, so cool.
• Barbossa's Dialogue
Throughout the trilogy, Barbossa has been known to spout lines from the original attraction and the third film is no different. Most notably, when they're going down the aforementioned waterfall, he shouts: "You may not survive to pass this way again and these be the last friendly words you hear!" Classic.
The dismal fourth film only has a couple of references that I could pick out, which isn't much of a surprise, considering the original production team was the one that really loved the original attraction and saw to it that the first three films were filled with loving homage after loving homage. These two are pretty big, though, in the grand scheme of moments from the attraction, and offer some diversionary joy.
• Ponce de León's Bed
There's a moment early on in the attraction known as the "Cabin's Quarters," where a skeleton is in a bed festooned with other skeletons (legend has it that those are actual human remains, by the way, obtained from a local medical school). With the introduction of Ponce de León into the fourth film's story, Jack and Barbossa enter into a sequence that's just like the tableau from the original attraction. It's a wonderful reference in an otherwise dreary film.
• Burning Beams
The other big moment taken from the attraction for the fourth film is the sequence when Jack confronts his double (later revealed to be whoever Penelope Cruz was supposed to be playing), they end up fighting atop beams in a burning building. This is a direct nod to a sequence towards the end of the attraction, where your boat floats underneath "burning beams" (right before the brief shootout and the exit up the waterfall). This struck me the first time I saw it as both a really cool homage and also evidence that the movies were running out of things to take from the attraction.
I've only seen the movie once, but I took notes on what I thought were winks and nods to the original attraction. Some of them are pretty deeply cut. The directors told me that a character named "Pig Kelly" has an outfit that is taken "from one of the original drawings that Disney had for the ride."
• The Title
This isn't the first time the words "dead men tell no tales," a direct reference to the original attraction, have been uttered in the franchise; it was first said by Cotton's parrot in "Curse of the Black Pearl." Co-director Joachim Rønning told us last week that it was the biggest reference to the original attraction.
• Rock Formations
This might be something of a stretch, but please hear me out (and a minor spoiler warning for those who are squeamish): early in the film, we're given a glimpse of the Devil's Triangle, a kind of purgatorial netherworld where Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew are trapped. One of the defining features of this location, geologically, are stalagmites coming up from the water. (They look sort of like shark's teeth.) This seems to be an affectionate homage to the cave sequences at the beginning of the attraction. But that's not all! At the very end of the movie, Jack and the rest of the pirates end up on an island covered with jewels. Now, to me, this seemed like a nod to the "crystal caves" moment during the attraction (right alongside those stalagmites and stalactites). Crystals, gemstones, they're all pretty much the same, right? Especially if you're a thieving pirate.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is out now. Yar.