When contemplating Disney, one often visualizes the iconic Cinderella castle, the Epcot Center’s resemblance to a golf ball and Kodak moments with Mickey and (an occasionally naughty) Donald Duck.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

At Quality 16 and Rave

But more notable than Disney’s obsessive branding is its relentless effort to bastardize every idea the company has stowed in its vaults. Step one, tell us an enchanting story; step two, keep milking until there’s nothing left; step three, milk some more.

This week’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is no exception. Straight from the prolific yet uninspired Jerry Bruckheimer (who, in case you didn’t know, is the Michael Bay of cop-themed TV shows and is now set on ruining pirate films), it’s everything we’ve come to expect from the franchise since 2006’s “Dead Man’s Chest.” The plot is shallow, the characters are flatter than flapjacks and the action is too frequent and hectic to make room for a good story.

“Pirates” (which is adapted from Tim Powers’ novel, “On Stranger Tides”) finds the eccentric Jack Sparrow in London searching for his impersonator. The crook turns out to be Sparrow’s former lover Angelica (Penélope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”). Together, the two find Angelica’s father, the ruthless pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane, “Deadwood”). Beautiful though she may be, Cruz looks lost in her role, and her acting takes a deserved second place to Keira Knightley’s career-making performance as Elizabeth in the first three “Pirates” films.

Without Knightley and Orlando Bloom to start the film off on solid footing, the rest of it is a merry-go-round of pirate clichés, chandelier-swinging slapstick and of course, Johnny Depp, who was quite entertaining … the first time around. But even an industry darling like Depp can’t stave off Sparrow’s expiration date, now long past. Drunken emo pirate impressions can only amuse us for so long.

What’s to be said of the film’s strengths? Though it’s hardly a compliment, Disney earns a star for cutting the runtime down closer to two hours. It’s hard to imagine how they could’ve added another half hour of nothing without incurring the ire of an angry movie mob.

The other star is well-earned for excellent production value, the only real saving grace. The make-up, the attention to detail and choreography are, per usual, excellent. They should be, if a production budget of $250 million has anything to say about it. But the writers failed to borrow much of anything from an abundance of source material, save for a few character references.

Though the built-in fan base of the first three “Pirates” films may ensure the box office success of “On Stranger Tides”, it’s clear that Disney has become its own worst enemy. Maybe they should let Pixar take the wheel from here on out. Originality is always better than lazy rehashing. If “National Treasure 3” is any indication, we’re in for a lot more of the same from Disney Pictures.

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