Disney Isn’t Taking Any Chances

By Ryen Rasmus

It is a well-known fact that the Walt Disney Company is one of the most zealous and litigious defenders of intellectual property in the entertainment arena. Whether the Company is suing daycare providers for putting up unauthorized Mickey and Minnie wall murals or engaging in several years’ worth of litigation to decide who really owns Winnie the Pooh, Disney has shown time and again that it is not afraid to go after those who impinge upon its intellectual property rights. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that the Company would err on the side of caution in situations where Disney itself might be accused of violating others’ trademarks and copyrights.

Such a situation recently led to a (partial) spoiler of the plot of the fourth installment in Disney’s popular and profitable Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. On Oct. 7, 2009, the Company confirmed that it had acquired the rights to a 1987 novel by author Tim Powers entitled On Stranger Tides. In the same announcement, Disney further confirmed that it would be using it’s newly-optioned intellectual property to form the basis for Pirates 4, which is itself to be called Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

The film is rumored to follow Johnny Depp’s charmingly quirky character, Captain Jack Sparrow, as he goes off in search of the Fountain of Youth – a storyline dangerously similar to the plot of Powers’s book, which also involves a character named “Jack” searching for the legendary spring. While screenwriter Terry Rossio told Empire Magazine that Disney’s forthcoming swashbuckler flick will not simply be an adaptation of Powers’s novel, he conceded that “there are enough common elements to think that the book had to be optioned to us to reasonably proceed along [the Fountain of Youth] storyline…It just turns out that to do that story you would need that book.”

Rossio went on to say that those who take the time to leaf through Powers’s work will be able to catch more than a few glimpses of what Pirates 4 will be offering. Now that Disney has formally acquired On Stranger Tides, Rossio and his collaborators are actively planning to “draw material” from the fictional “universe” of the author’s novel – which contains, among other things, a ship crewed by zombies, a buccaneer who carries his dead wife’s head around with him in a box, and a healthy dose of voodoo sorcery. With elements that seem to line up well with the supernatural plot points presented in the first three Pirates movies, a film based upon Powers’s novel seems set to give fans of Disney’s Pirates franchise more of what they want.

Now if only the Company could tie Jack Sparrow himself down for good…

Photo courtesy of Flickr user xrrr.

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