Intertextuality: Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean

Hi everyone! A few announcements for my dedicated fans who have been wondering about my infrequent posts! (Perhaps about ten of you XD) I’ve been rather busy lately, so I haven’t been able to dedicate quite as much time to this blog. I missed last month’s Captain’s Log, but have been posting to twitter a little more frequently. If you’d like to know my thoughts on Logan or see how hilariously wrong my Academy Award predictions were, follow me on Twitter @PopCulturedWP, which I will try to update more frequently. In the meantime, here’s a fun little post I threw together rather quickly.

The Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean – if you haven’t seen these movies, you’re doing yourself a disservice. They’re both stone-cold classics which have garnered a great deal of pop culture reverence. But, these movies are more alike then people might realize at first viewings.

Let me say what I said for my Intertextuality post on Star Wars and Avatar: the Last Airbender; this is mostly just a surface-level comparison. I’m not saying these two works are “the exact same thing,” but there are some noteworthy amusing similarities.

Let’s start with our main protagonists. There’s Will and Westley. Nice young men of humble birth – one’s a blacksmith, the other a farmboy.

They both have a woman they both dearly love. Elizabeth and Buttercup. We’re told/shown that their love is a thing of great passion, which can’t be stopped by the guy who the girl is expected to marry.

And this true love story is all well and good, but eh, forget that, because there’s a much more interesting side character who’s looking for revenge. Jack Sparrow and Inigo Montoya.

That’s what you’re really here for. But, that being said, the swordfight between Revenge seeker and the person they seek revenge against is neat, but isn’t remotely as fascinating as the duel between the main protagonist and the secondary protagonist in the early section of the film. Jack versus Barbosa and Inigo versus the Six-fingered Man aren’t as good as Jack versus Will or Inigo versus Westley.

Yeah, these are all pretty much surface-level comparisons, but it’s fun to think about. For two such beloved films, it surprises me to find that people haven’t made this comparison before, given that in just a few months after the release of Frozen Buzzfeed began touting it as “Literally the same movie as The Lion King.”

It’s important to note the differences though. The Princess Bride has a few fantasy elements – the fire exploding out of the swamps, Rodents of Unusual Size, and the miracle workers, but that’s about it. Curse of the Black Pearl, on the other hand, has a lot more fantasy, given its undead pirates and titular curse. The Princess Bride just uses these for aesthetics, whereas in Curse of the Black Pearl it really drives the action (hence it being the title of the film). This is a difference worth noting, because one common criticism of the later Pirates films is that they get too wrapped up in the fantasy aspects of the story. Enough of the Seagodesses and Mermaids from At World’s End and On Stranger Tides, just give us an epic revenge story and fun pirate hijinks.

And there’s the antagonists. There’s not really a one-to-one comparison. Curse of the Black Pearl has Barbossa and Commodore Norrington, whereas The Princess Bride has Prince Humperdinck and the six-fingered Count Rugen. Norrington isn’t quite like Humperdinck. He’s a nice guy and just finds himself in between Will and Elizabeth’s passionate love and is required by his occupation to arrest Jack and all the pirates that we love. And beneath all Geoffrey Rush’s pirate quirks, there is something to be said for the character Barbossa’s humanity. The ultimate goal for Barbossa and the other cursed pirates is to lift the curse so that they can eat food and use their sense of touch and simply enjoy life (the Curse literally dulls all their senses but touch). Compare this with Humperdinck or Count Rugen, the former wanting to force a woman to marry him and the latter just being a torture enthusiast. The Princess Bride‘s villains are much less sympathetic, but it makes sense to have such over-the-top villains since it’s supposed to be a bedtime fairy tale.

Also, I find Westley to be a much more likeable character than Will. Westley is witty and charming, whereas Will just kind of broods and seems concerned for the entire film. As far as their female counterparts are concerned, I prefer Elizabeth to Buttercup. Elizabeth has much more agency, whereas Buttercup is a little bit more of damsel-in-distress. Again, I get that it’s supposed to be a take on classic fairy tales and damsel stories, but you could argue the same for Curse of the Black Pearl, which still has Elizabeth try to stab Barbossa, or do something clever like set fires for the Navy to find her, or when she fights off her kidnappers in the beginning of the movie. Not to mention all of the great things she does in the sequels.

The thing I appreciate about these differences is that (for me, at least) it doesn’t make either movie better or worse, it just makes them, well, different from one another. And that’s all right.

Basically, the similarities between these movies show what’s needed for a great swashbuckling adventure. Great swordfights, charismatic characters, a fair balance of romance and revenge, and just a hint of fantastical elements – and you’ve got a pop culture classic.

2 thoughts on “Intertextuality: Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean

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