The Pirates of the Caribbean series gets a much darker lead thanks to an obscure (and official) short film.
With the coming of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, it only seemed fitting that we at Film School Rejects do something for the occasion. Maybe a list of the series’s shots (you laugh, but they’re not bad) or an Insufferability Index for their protagonists. I decided on something a bit more esoteric. Yes, ignoring the blockbusters completely, I decided to look at the single short film in the PotC universe: “Tales of the Code: Wedlocked.”
“Wedlocked,” directed by James Ward Byrkit of Rango fame back in 2011 right after they’d filmed the second and third Pirates films back-to-back, is strange. I mean even in the scope of the Pirates of the Caribbean universe where Krakens, mermaids, and magic ship-shrinking magic exists, it’s completely bonkers. Not because of its wild acts of seafaring fantasy, but because it features Jack Sparrow selling two girls into sex slavery. No, I didn’t say Johnny Depp. I said, Captain Jack Sparrow. You know, the protagonist of these children’s films.
The plot of the short serves as a prequel to the first film while expanding upon the short auction segment of the original Disneyland attraction upon which the series is based. The section of the ride features pirates selling the weeping women of their pillaged town to the highest bidder: redheaded wenches are hot commodities and overweight women are just happy for the attention. Already not a great pick for inspiration.
Why this hasn’t been obsessed over by Pirates aficionados or Depp apologists seems to be because of its obscurity. The ten-minute film was “only included as a special feature in the US 15 disc 3D Blu-ray/2D Blu-ray/DVD + Digital Copy box set that includes Pirates 1–4,” according to Wikipedia. Even if you were to slog through all fifteen discs of that collection, there’s a very real chance that you would skip right over this odd piece of fan service.
But luckily for us, it is on YouTube:
The short begins with Scarlett (Lauren Maher) and Giselle (Vanessa Branch), known for their minor scenes in the movies where they slap Jack Sparrow, both preparing for weddings…to Jack Sparrow. They are, of course, upset when this truth becomes apparent, but they’re unable to focus on it long before a new problem arises. Sparrow hasn’t simply left them both at the altar, he’s sold them to an auctioneer.
That’s a bit more problematic than Sparrow mistaking “horologist” for “whore” in Dead Men Tell No Tales. We like to think of Sparrow as a harmless ragtag charmer who likes to steal, seduce, and stir up a bit of anarchy, but sex trafficking? The captain was never the most progressive towards women (he’s a pirate in pirate times for christ sake) but he’s also the hero of a Disney franchise. You’d think they’d want the similarities to Depp to stop at an obsession for gaudy headwear.
That said, aside from its poor choice in subject matter, this shortfalls into a trap many pieces of extended universe fiction do: over-explanation. It doesn’t erase the magic of the some of the wondrously weird mysteries of the first film, but it certainly misunderstands why those things won audiences over in the first place. It’s a bright, too-logical lighthouse beam through the entertaining mystique. We find out why Sparrow’s ship is sinking during his glorious introduction sequence during Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and we find out why that one parrot guy got his tongue cut out. We also (if you haven’t caught it) found out why Scarlett and Giselle are so mad at Sparrow when they find him. Sex. Slavery.
There are some great actor tidbits here, including the cameo appearance of the excellent Dale Dickey (who helped set the tone of Hell or High Water as the film’s first bank employee) alongside two really game comedic performances from Maher and Branch (neither of whom, sadly, have done as high-profile work since), but that’s about all the film has to offer. The short isn’t badly directed or shot – it’s just gross. There are the most minor attempts to subvert the content, but it still remains something that’s better buried than treasured in the PotC annals.