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 The Monkey Island Movie

It did exist, but what was it all about? And what, if any, is its connection to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies? We investigate Curse of Monkey Island, the cancelled Monkey Island movie.

The rumors of a cancelled Monkey Island movie first popped up in 2003 when Dominic Armato, voice of Guybrush Threepwood, posted a message on our forums about it:

Best I heard is that there WAS a script in development, but no longer. There was a department somewhere in the greater Lucas empire that was tasked with developing screenplays for some of the more animated film friendly LEC properties, but the department was scrapped in the big reorganization about... what... a year ago? Of course, this is old info and the project could very well have been resurrected by now, but the rumors that there was an MI movie in development aren't entirely untrue

The movie, we later learned, was to be animated, and a sub-group of Industrial Lights and Magic was tasked with the development of it.

While titled Curse of Monkey Island, the movie was pretty much an original story, and was distinct from the series aside from the inclusion of Guybrush, LeChuck, Elaine and monkeys.

A couple of years later we could reveal some concept art (see below) developed by Tony Stacchi and Steve Purcell for an unnamed animated pirate project. Further work has gradually made its way onto the internet, and it was eventually added as bonus features of a retail release of LucasArts' special editions of the first two games.

The alleged Pirates of the Caribbean connection

Both Jack Sparrow and Guybrush use a coffin as a rowboat. Uncanny, but not exactly a huge plot point in either story.

Very little is know about the movie, which never got particularly far along before its abortion. But you can't discuss the project without addressing certain rumors related to its supposed kinship to Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.

Ever since the first Pirates movie was released, frustrated Monkey Island fans have entertained selves with the idea that it could be seen as a live action counterpart to Monkey Island. Some went further, and insistently believed that there is a genuine connection. A provocative quote from an anonymous source about the Monkey Island movie around the time the second Pirates of the Caribbean film is the source of much of the controversy that prevails to this day:

The really interesting thing is that the movie was going to be produced by Steven Spielberg (who is a big Monkey Island fan himself). He asked Ted Elliott, a script writer who has worked on several Disney movies (including Treasure Planet) and on Steven Spielberg's Director's Chair game, to help with the story for the MI movie. The Monkey Island movie never got the green light and years later Ted Elliott wrote Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, which took several ideas from Monkey Island. So basically the first two PotC movies are the Monkey Island movie.

There is no official confirmation that Ted Elliot or Spielberg were ever involved with the Monkey Island animated film project. One of The SCUMM Bar's trusted sources -- who will remain anonymous -- has confirmed a Ted Elliot connection, though not Steven Spielberg's alleged role. Take that for what it's worth: An unconfirmed confirmation of an unconfirmed rumor of a not-defined role.

We do know that Elliot and his longtime screenwriting partner, Terry Rossio, had attempted to pitch a film adaptation of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride to Disney in 1992. Their supernatural vision for the movie would eventually get made after years of studio resistance (due to a general belief, fueled by high profile flops, that pirate movies were non-viably expensive) as well as some drafts by other writers that shied away from the supernatural. When pressed on the matter both Elliot and Rossio have maintained that they've never played the Monkey Island games. Rossio, in particular, seems to take understandable umbrage at the idea that their hard work was theft. Here's a comment he left on an online article by The Oxford Student that implied as much:

You should really know your facts before making not-so-subtle accusations of plagiarism. Ted Elliott was never hired to write a story or screenplay to the computer game Monkey Island, not in the year 2000 or any other year. Ironically, the creators of Monkey Island have acknowledged their inspiration and debt to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

The screenwriting duo has addressed Monkey Island a few times on the forums of their site Wordplayer.com. For example, here's where they've explicitly denied playing it when asked point-blank. First, Ted Elliot:

Nope.

But wasn't the Monkey Island game itself inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride? I recall that after the first movie came out, someone said we ripped off the prisoners calling dog with keys from the game.

And Terry Rossio:

Wow, people are strange.
I read through some of those posts made by people who are familiar with the game (I've not played it, but then, I've not played ANY video game ... I couldn't get past the first challenge of MYST). Anyway, in several posts listed, people said stuff like, Wow, look at the voodoo lady, man, that is so similar, taken directly from the game.
It seems as though (from what I can glean) that the only similarity between the two characters is that each is a Voodoo Lady. Actually I did always feel less than brilliant on that character -- like how Stephen King felt about Abigail in the STAND, writing a kind of standard black mystic character from the south, a gypsy queen, swamp lady, voodoo queen, etc). The character always felt a bit 'stock' (though we worked to make her as unique as we could). Anyway -- who would have thought that the choice to create a Voodoo Lady in a pirate film would lead a number of people to think we had to steal that idea from somwhere? I was going to write a horror film with a witch character, but now I'm not so sure ...

Although fans have delighted in pointing out the similarities (some of them downright uncanny) between the Pirates film franchise and the Monkey Island series, there's no concrete evidence that these observations are anything but coincidental.

And Rossio is right, of course: Monkey Island was heavily influenced both by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and the Tim Powers novel On Stranger Tides. (Elliot and Rossio have independently cited that book as well, and even went as far as to subtitle the fourth film On Stranger Tides in acknowledgment.)

The plot thickens. Or thinens.

Two towns built from shipwrecks don't make Ted Elliott a thief.

Should Elliot have worked on a Monkey Island movie, anything lifted from the experience was evidently highly superficial. Again, our trusted but anonymous source had indicated that Curse of Monkey Island and Pirates of the Caribbean's stories had next to nothing in common. This was later confirmed through the storyboards released with the Special Edition bundle.

A very (very) short overview of the plot:

Curse of Monkey Island portrayed Guybrush as a bait fisherman, dreaming of becoming a pirate. He is recruited by LeChuck, who is looking to bring deceased pirates back from the dead, joining all pirates under his flag.

Guybrush is tasked with sailing to find the treasure of Monkey Island, not knowing he is actually a decoy to lure the Anti-Pirate Armada (headed by Elaine) away from LeChuck. After battling it out and reaching a truce, Guybrush and Elaine team up on Monkey Island. LeChuck, meanwhile, is turned into a zombie after his plans of raising the dead backfires. As a zombie pirate, he races after Guybrush to retrieve a sacred artifact -- the Eye of the Monkey -- Guybrush is in possession of.

Tricking Guybrush into giving him the Eye of the Monkey, LeChuck succeeds in bringing the dead pirates back to life. Guybrush and Elaine battles the undead pirates, win, and rids the world of LeChuck.

The end. (The Monkey Island Wiki has a longer synopsis.)

It's pretty clear that the story has little to do with Pirates of the Caribbean or the Monkey Island games.

But there are similarities

Certain aspects of Pirates of the Caribbean may or may not have been lifted from the games, but if they were, they were all superficial, and there is no telling who actually borrowed them. A producer or a cinematographer or a craft services chef could have come up with the suggestions for all we know, and that is still based on an assumption that anything actually was lifted from Monkey Island. Either way, Elliot seems to be in the clear.

In the end Pirates of the Caribbean was released with its own story, and a handful of shallow similarities to Monkey Island. These might have been borrowed, they might not have been, and in the end it doesn't really matter. Curse of Monkey Island was scrapped alongside a Sam & Max feature called Plunge Through Space.

Still, one can't help but wonder what we lost. One source (who shall remain anonymous) with some knowledge of the script seemed to think it was for the best. His one word describing it: Shit.

Concept art

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