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


Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas: PICK


Treasure Planet: PICK


The Black Pirate: PICK


Content advisory:

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Stylized swashbuckling action violence, recurring menace; mild horror imagery (animated skeletal corpses) and magic/curse premise; comic drunkenness; mild sensuality and innuendo; brief profanity. Teens and up. Sinbad: Intense animated swashbuckling action; mild crude humor and sensuality. Probably okay for most kids. Treasure Planet: Intense cartoon action sequences; menacing elements including alien monsters; a few off-screen deaths. Probably okay for most kids. The Black Pirate: Much action violence and sometimes-terrible deeds by pirates; revenge theme; menace to a female prisoner’s honor. Okay for older kids.

Considering its theme-park origins, the original Pirates of the Caribbean is more entertaining, funny, thrilling and romantic than it has any right to be. Critics have compared it to such genre-celebrating pictures as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Princess Bride and, while it’s not in the same league as either of those films, it’s in the same spirit.

Director Gore Verbinski brings a light touch, neither taking the material too seriously nor crossing the line into self-aware satire. The sly, well-crafted story entails pretty much everything you could want in a pirate movie: an ancient treasure, a terrible curse, a secret island-cave hiding place, a feisty damsel in distress, ships blown into driftwood, bottles of rum, planks to walk, desert islands, swordplay and rope-swinging, and an ominous, ghostly vessel crewed by cursed souls who look human by day but whose true nature is revealed by the moon.

The film is powered by Johnny Depp’s unclassifiable performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, a down-on-his-luck buccaneer who may be either the best or the worst pirate in the Spanish Main, but is definitely the quirkiest. Also hamming it up is Geoffrey Rush as Sparrow’s rival, Captain Barbossa. Orlando Bloom has charisma and presence as the nominal hero, while heroine Keira Knightley is both fetching and funny.

For family-friendly pirate adventure, two recent animated films offer a blend of excitement and moral drama. DreamWorks’ rousing animated swashbuckler Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas blends Arabian folklore and Greek mythology, pitting Sinbad, thief of Baghdad, against Eris, Olympian goddess of discord. Dazzling set pieces include a nerve-wracking course through siren-invested shoals and a breakneck chase down a snowbound cliffside pursued by an angry roc. In this day and age, eye candy is par for the course in big-budget animation. But how many cartoon swashbucklers ultimately come down to a soul-baring moral dilemma that exposes the protagonist’s weakness while offering a path to redemption through sacrifice?

Treasure Planet, Disney’s animated sci-fi updating of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, combines lavish 18th-century attire and naval architecture with Star Wars-like technology and storytelling style. As in Stevenson, fatherless young Jim Hawkins is catapulted into dangerous circumstances by a pirate treasure map and finds a surrogate father figure in a morally ambiguous old salt named Silver (as in Long John). The story highlights how the absence of Jim’s father (here depicted as having abandoned the family) has affected Jim and his struggling mother. This abandoning is seen as unequivocally bad; and Silver’s character provides an unusual level of moral complexity.

Finally, don’t overlook the spectacular acrobatics of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in The Black Pirate, one of the silent era’s most spectacular action blockbusters, filmed in an early Technicolor process that makes it one of the only color silent films. The film includes a famous and widely copied stunt recycled in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie — riding down a sail on the edge of a knife. And, unlike Orlando Bloom, Fairbanks did it for real!