REVIEW: Is “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” too scary for kids?

Henry Turner is a determined young man on a seemingly impossible mission: He wants to break the curse that turned his father, the famous pirate Will Turner, into an “undead” ghost.

Sure, it may sound eerie, but Turner, as a boy, met his father face to face. They even had a conversation one dark night at sea.

“My curse will never be broken,” his father, covered with sea sludge, told him. “This is my fate. I love you, son.”

Turner, though, isn’t giving up and soon begins searching for a lost treasure called the Trident of Poseidon, which will break the curse and bring his father back to life. But to find it he must survive the wrath of Captain Armando Salazar—another undead pirate—and he must obtain the help of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the swashbuckling, womanizing pirate who is very much alive.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (PG-13) opens in theaters this weekend, giving us the fifth installment in the Disney Pirates series and officially kicking off the summer movie season.

Filmmakers gave Depp’s character a slightly lesser role in this film, choosing instead to spotlight the stories of Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer who is looking not only for the Trident but for her own identity. Together, the three form an alliance as they seek to avoid Salazar, who is sailing the ocean with his ghost crew on a ghost ship and killing nearly everyone in sight.

Red Robin and Dave & Busters are two of the leading partners for this one, which means kids will be hearing a lot about ghosts, pirates and swords in the coming days.

So, is Dead Men Tell No Tales family-friendly? Let’s take a look …

Warning: minor spoilers!

The Good

For fans of action films, this Pirates film has plenty to enjoy. (Especially if you, like me, appreciate 18th- and 19th-century-era movies with their massive sailing ships.) The story also is easy to follow, even if everything gets a little weird in the end.  

The family angle also is nice. Henry will do anything to find his father, who, in turn, truly wants to be reunited with his son. Carina also finds her father, and in the end we witness a great example of self-sacrifice.

We also discover Jack Sparrow’s backstory, thanks to some CGI magic (à la Carrie Fisher in Rogue One).

The Bad

The poster for Dead Men Tell No Tales hints that it’s a violent, dark film with disturbing images, and Disney gives us exactly that. Teens likely won’t be bothered but kids might.

Salazar kills a man with a sword through the torso, and later he orders his ghost crew to kill several soldiers in similar fashion. There’s plenty of punching, sword fighting and shooting, too, with a few cannonball battles mixed in. There’s also a comical guillotine scene in which we see realistic-looking heads in a basket.

The disturbing images are just as significant. Salazar and his crew look like something out of a demonic movie, with blood dripping and flesh rotting. There’s also a scene involving a creepy-looking bald witch who is stirring a potion.

There are no bedroom scenes, but Sparrow jokes often about sex. (He describes the figure of Harry’s mom in detail; he and his crew joke about “horology,” the study of time; he gets excited when Carina undresses to her petticoat; he is found in a bank vault with a married woman).

There are two kissing scenes, and Carina wears several outfits that show cleavage.

I counted three coarse words: misuse of “God” (1), a–(1) and pi-s (1).

Spiritual Content

Even though the film contains scenes involving a priest and nuns, it’s mostly void of explicit Christian content.

The Worldview

Simply put, the worldview is one big mess. Sure, we see a priest and nuns, but God doesn’t seem to have dominion over anything. Ghosts rule the sea due to a curse from the “Devil’s Triangle.” The key to breaking the curse lies in the stars (an assumed reference to astrology) and the magical Trident. When people enter the Devil’s Triangle, they turn into ghosts.

Finally, what are parents to tell their kids about Jack Sparrow? He’s an anti-hero—a character who doesn’t carry the traditional characteristics of a hero. He attempts to rob a bank. He loves getting drunk. He exchanges his compass for more alcohol. He really likes women. And all of this is played as comedy. He is, of course, a pirate—a bad guy who makes a living by stealing at sea. We’re supposed to laugh at him, and I did, but watching this series sure gets tricky if kids start asking questions. (My suggestion: Tell the truth.)    

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

It’s not the best movie of the month, but Dead Men Tell No Tales entertained me enough for a couple of hours. Thumbs up.

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

My kids, ages 9 and 5, would have nightmares if they saw this Pirates movie. It’s simply too scary and violent for young ones. For teens, though, it’s fine. It’s family-friendly, but only for certain families.

Discussion Questions

1. Is Jack a good guy or bad guy … or a little bit of both?

2. What does the Bible teach about ghosts? What does it say about curses? What does it say about death?

3. Do you enjoy movies with anti-heroes? Why or why not?

4. Was Carina studying astronomy … or astrology? What does Scripture say about each one?  

5. Did you like the ending? Why or why not?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friend rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content.

TEXAN Correspondent
Michael Foust
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