MOVIE NES – For nearly two decades, the existence of a Monkey Island movie adaptation was a complete secret. Development of the project began in the early 2000s and finally saw the light of day in 2011 with the release of the Monkey Island Special Edition Collection. Special features of the edition included detailed scripts of the planned film, revealing its similarities to Pirates of the Caribbean.
This further fuelled the long-standing rumours that Pirates of the Caribbean was a major ‘rip-off’ of Monkey Island – rumours backed up by several key facts. First, the apparent similarities.
Both franchises focus on piracy, the character development of a young pirate (Will Turner / Guybrush Threepwood) and a ghostly pirate army led by a skeletal captain (Barbossa / LeChuck). Both Monkey Island and Pirates of the Caribbean feature a young woman in need of rescue, who is the mayor herself in the play and the mayor’s daughter (Elaine Marley / Elizabeth Swann) in the film.
Later films also reportedly strengthened the connection with characters such as the Voodoo Lady, who resembled Tia Dalma’s voodoo priestess.
Fans have also claimed that Pirates of the Caribbean and Monkey Island have similar storylines, in which a ghostly band of pirates kidnap the daughter of an island mayor and hide her on a cursed island while the inexperienced protagonist works to rescue the damsel in distress and become a worthy pirate.
But it’s not just the structural similarities between the stories that fans have highlighted.
In an interview with Polygon, two of the film’s creators confirmed widespread rumours that Pirates of the Caribbean screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott were involved in the making of the Monkey Island movie – but to a lesser extent than originally thought.
David Carson, a visual designer at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), told Polygon that the pair were brought into ILM’s studios during a visit to persuade them to allegedly join the Monkey Island film.
“They toured ILM and came over to the story group offices,” Carson told Polygon. “We talked to them about the films they were developing and showed them the Monkey Island artwork we were working on. We didn’t know that Ted and Terry were writing a script for Disney at the time, based on the Pirates of the Caribbean carousel at Disneyland.”
According to storyboard artist Tony Stacchi, the pair were offered Monkey Island and shown a key storyboard for “all the beats” of the film.
Rossio and Elliott wrote the script for Pirates of the Caribbean, which was released in 2003. But both Elliott and Rossio denied that this visit had any influence on their ideas.
To be fair, this story is somewhat similar to the time when Bill Gates visited the offices of Steve Jobs’ Apple, looked at their operating system in the making, for a possible collaboration, and then used it to create Windows.
Fans, of course, voiced their own ideas – and the concept sketches released in 2011 only further fuelled speculation about the relationship between the two projects.
After repeated stalls and starts, development on the Monkey Island adaptation was eventually cancelled. Still, both Carson and Stacchi claim that this was more to do with story and budget issues and that work on the feature film seems to have stalled long before the release of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Still, it’s fascinating to see how Pirates of the Caribbean and Monkey Island films have evolved over the same period and with very similar ideas. While there is no definitive answer as to whether Pirates of the Caribbean was actually developed from Monkey Island, the two projects are so similar that it would be hard not to think that way. It should also be added that Money Island was also heavily influenced by Disney’s theme park attraction Pirates of the Caribbean, on which the film was officially based.
In any case, Johnny Depp is gone from Pirates of the Caribbean, and the sequel is still very much in doubt, while the latest in the Monkey Island series, Return to Monkey Island, was released a few days ago, so you’ll be able to read our test of it shortly.