Every Time the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies Reference the Disney Ride That Inspired Them
When it comes to classic Disney attractions, it doesn’t get more iconic than Pirates of the Caribbean. As the last Disneyland attraction developed with Walt Disney’s oversight and input, the swashbuckling dark boat ride adventure has been a fan favorite at Disney Parks for over 50 years. A trip to Disneyland or Disney World doesn’t feel complete until I’ve smelled that musty Pirates smell and immersed myself in Walt’s romanticized version of 17th century piracy.
The highly successful Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl inspired changes to the ride, incorporating characters from the movie, and now there are a total of five films featuring Johnny Depp’s charmingly eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow. Given the wealth of detail in the original Disneyland ride, references abound in the films, and we’ll break down a few of them!
While screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rosio were brainstorming ideas for a story that would capture the spirit of the ride, they latched onto the concept of the curse mentioned by the disembodied voice of the skull and crossbones sentry, who says, “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?” and then, “Aye, blood money and cursed it be. Cursed by the black-hearted rogues what left it.” They derived the cursed treasure of Cortés–the basis of the first film’s narrative–from these foreboding words and from the undead skeletons manning the helm, drinking, and seeking treasure in the “Dead Man’s Cove” portion of the ride.
In The Curse of the Black Pearl, Hector Barbossa and his crew of mutineers steal 882 identical pieces of legendary Aztec gold, delivered in a stone chest by Aztec rulers to Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés as “blood money paid to stem the slaughter he wreaked upon them with his armies.” Because the gold only fed Cortes’s greed, the heathen gods placed a curse upon it, and any mortal who dared to remove it (Barbossa and company) would be doomed to walk the earth neither dead nor fully living, full of unquenchable desire.
During the attraction’s development, Walt worried about how guests might react to some of the uncouth behavior of the pirates, so Walt Disney Imagineer Francis Xavier Atencio (better known as X) suggested incorporating a light-hearted sea shanty to tone down the more lecherous aspects of the ride. X wrote lyrics for the song with inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, especially the phrase “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum,” and George Bruns (“The Balllad of Davy Crockett” and “Love” from Robin Hood) set them to music.
The resulting classic “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)” can be heard three times in the first film. Young Elizabeth Swann sings it in the film’s opening scene as she peers into the fog from her perch aboard the Dauntless and later again with Jack Sparrow on Rumrunner’s Isle as they drunkenly dance around their campfire. The final reference to the song in Curse of the Black Pearl comes when Jack sings a few broken lines as he sets sail with his crew at the end.
“Yo Ho” is also featured three times in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. You’ll have to pay close attention to hear the first one–a distorted instrumental version of the song plays amidst other well-known audio snippets from the ride during the momentary screen black out after the Hai Peng goes over the waterfall. Jack sings it as he sails away to search for the Fountain of Youth, and so does Will Turner’s young son as he walks to the cliff with Elizabeth to greet his father at the end.
Finally, Jack’s last words in On Stranger Tides are “it’s a pirate’s life for me,” a line that seems to harken back to the use of the song in the previous films.
The Pirate Attack
During the ride, guests float through “Dead Man’s Cove” into a foggy abyss, beyond which they find themselves in the midst of a battle between pirate ship the Wicked Wench and the Spanish army defending their fort on Isla Tesoro. The visual effects team on Curse of the Black Pearl intended to recreate this scene with the Black Pearl’s attack on Port Royal. One of the most memorable details from the attraction are the splashes in the water from the canon blasts, and the camerawork in the film highlights identical images with the intention of encouraging viewers to make that visual connection.
The Dog With the Keys
The prison dog is probably one of the most recognizable images from the original attraction. This scene, featuring three pirates locked in a prison cell dangling a bone between the bars and calling to a scraggly dog holding the keys, appears frequently on Disney promotional materials, so even those who have never experienced the ride might know its inclusion in the films is a nod to the theme parks. We first see the prison dog in The Curse of the Black Pearl just before the Black Pearl attacks Port Royal and blasts a hole in the prison wall, freeing all the inmates except the unfortunate Jack Sparrow, whose cell remains intact.
In Dead Man’s Chest, the dog appears again in a boat with Pintel and Ragetti after helping them escape their cells, and then later on the beach. His last appearance is in At World’s End, when he inexplicably shows up as the keeper of the Pirata Codex keys on Shipwreck Island. Captain Teague explains his presence by saying, “Sea turtles, mate,” a reference to Jack Sparrow’s legendary escape from Rumrunner’s Isle after his crew mutinies against him and maroons him there.
Skeleton Drinking Wine/Rum
Early in the ride, guests float past a skeletal pirate guzzling some sort of spirit–it’s unclear if it’s rum or wine, and the liquid can be seen trickling down his exposed ribcage. In Curse of the Black Pearl, Barbossa stands in the moonlight, revealing his cursed, bony form, as he uncorks a bottle of wine with his teeth and drinks it, mimicking the visual from the attraction.
The Burning Town
The Island of Tortuga, a seedy pirates’ haven where Jack and Will recruit a motley crew to sail with them to Isla de Muerta, provides an ideal setting for several references to the burning town sequence in the ride. As the two circumstantial allies make their way through the town, they are surrounded by pirates shooting Flintlock pistols and drinking rum, one guzzling a tankard atop two teetering barrels and one from a stream spouting from another barrel, seemingly punctured by a stray bullet. These are scenes taken directly from the mayhem that ensues in Puerto Durado after the pirates take the fort and move on to the town in the attraction.
The infamous “Redhead” from the controversial “Take a Wench for a Bride” auction (now reimagined as the fearsome pirate, Redd) makes an appearance during the Tortuga scene as well, when a fiery-maned character named Scarlett slaps Jack across the face immediately upon his arrival.
In Dead Man’s Chest, it’s Will’s turn to be at the receiving end of Scarlett’s malice. The second film in the franchise also features some overt tributes to the ride that were cut from Curse of the Black Pearl because the studio wanted to distance the Disney name from the project in case it didn’t do well at the box office. As the fourth highest grossing film of 2003, it obviously defied expectations, and the deleted attraction scenes, including a man in shackles quivering with fear as a band of pirates dunk the town magistrate in a well, were instead included in Dead Man’s Chest.
Jack returns to Tortuga one last time at the end of At World’s End where he discovers Gibbs sleeping on the dock, learns his ship is missing, and receives slaps from two different women.
The Man Wallowing with the Pigs
During the ride’s pillaging sequence, a drunken pirate sits in a corner against a stone wall wallowing in the mud with some pigs beside their trough. Disney has dubbed this character “The Scalawag,” and merchandise featuring his likeness is marketed as such. In Curse of the Black Pearl, when Jack and Will find Mr. Gibbs on Tortuga, he’s sleeping off a bender in a pigsty, and Jack throws a bucket of water on him to wake him up. After Jack presents his proposition to Gibbs, Will throws another bucket of water on him “for the smell.”
“Dead Men Tell No Tales”
Throughout the course of the ride, a ghostly voice echoes in the caverns, delivering a shadowy warning to passengers: “Dead men tell no tales.” Mute pirate Cotton’s talking parrot quotes this line in The Curse of the Black Pearl. The title of the fifth and most recent Pirates film comes from this line as well.
There are several other references to spoken lines from the attraction in the films, including the phrase, “keep a weather eye open,” an idiom that simply means to watch very carefully for signs of change. This line can be heard a few times in The Curse of the Black Pearl. Another reference to ride dialogue comes from the Pirate Captain of the Wicked Wench, who bellows across the chasm between his vessel and the fort he’s attacking: “Strike your colors, ya bloomin’ cockroaches!” Barbossa yells the same words during the battle between the Interceptor and the Black Pearl in the first film.
Barbossa may win the award for quoting the ride more than any other character. In At World’s End, he says, “You may not survive to pass this way again and these be the last friendly words you hear,” before crashing over the waterfall, and during Calypso’s maelstrom, he shouts, “It be too late to alter course now mateys!”
Isla de Muerta (Dead Man’s Cove)
Isla de Muerta, or Island of the Dead, is a phantom island in the Caribbean that “cannot be found except by those who already know where it is,” as Jack tells Will. This is the island where the cursed treasure of Cortés resides, and footage of Barbossa and crew standing among the mounds of riches surrounding the stone chest in The Curse of the Black Pearl are reminiscent of the “Treasure Room” scene from the “Grotto” sequence in “Dead Man’s Cove.”
As Jack and Will row into the caves on Isla de Muerta, we catch a fleeting glimpse of a skeleton on the beach with a sword in its back and a crab nearby, which is both a direct reference to a scene from “Dead Man’s Cove” and a plot vehicle used to help Will realize Jack is preparing to betray him by trading him to Barbossa for the Black Pearl.
The Blue Bayou (Tia Dalma’s House)
Following the release of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, some fans of the original attraction expressed mild disappointment that there were no references to the fireflies from the Blue Bayou scene at the beginning of the ride, which is exclusive to Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland and was not included in the Magic Kingdom version of the ride at Walt Disney World. This scene, which features Spanish moss hanging from stilted shacks along the bayou, an old man sitting on a porch plucking the broken melodies to “Camptown Races” and “Oh Susanna” on his banjo, chirping crickets, and of course, sparkling fireflies, is the atmosphere-setting backdrop for Disneyland’s Blue Bayou restaurant. Passengers on Pirates float between the scenery and seated guests dining by lantern light at the Louisana-inspired table service favorite.
The screenwriters took this feedback seriously and recreated the bayou scene with Tia Dalma’s house on the Pantano River in Dead Man’s Chest, right down to the glowing fireflies greeting the crew as they enter the forest of Cypress trees, seeking the mysterious witch doctor.
For more information about The Blue Bayou, be sure to read our top 5 historic Disneyland restaurants you can’t miss.
On Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland and Walt Disney World, guests plunge down a waterfall (two on the Disneyland version) designed to make them feel as if they are leaving the modern world and entering the “golden age of piracy.” The Curse of the Black Pearl was originally going to include a waterfall scene, but Disney cut it due to budget constraints and CEO Michael Eisner’s request for the removal of obvious ride references. The waterfall instead appears in At World’s End, when the crew of the Hai Peng sails over the edge of the living world and into Davy Jones’ locker. The previously mentioned audio references contribute to the ride effect.
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