Johnny Depp Showed Up at Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean Ride, and Everyone Freaked Out

His second stunt for the park, courtesy of Denizen Company

Headshot of T.L. Stanley

There’s an animatronic likeness of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, which was added after the action movie franchise started minting money more than a decade ago.

But last week, the real Sparrow—yes, Johnny Depp himself—showed up in the flesh at the Anaheim, Calif., attraction, causing visitors at the happiest place on Earth to lose their minds and blow up Twitter.

The stunt was part of the marketing around Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth iteration of the blockbuster series, opening May 26.

Denizen Company orchestrated the surprise appearance after working on another Disneyland project with Depp—last year’s livestreamed movie poster, which had the star interacting with park guests in real time as the Mad Hatter from the Alice in Wonderland sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Last Wednesday night, Depp greeted visitors on the Pirates water-based ride with his patented Sparrow swagger and demands like, “Give me all your cash … and that camera.”

Crowds learned of his cameo and gathered outside the ride, chanting, “Captain Jack! Captain Jack!” A sea of smartphones caught Depp greeting them in front of the attraction.

Denizen co-founder Joel Jensen walked AdFreak through the stunt.

Can you describe the project and its goals?
It’s been five years since the last Pirates movie arrived in theaters, and Disney wanted to rekindle fans’ excitement and love for the franchise. [Depp] was set up in the ride’s well scene [which features a mayor being dunked into a well by a pirate]. Each boat passes by the scene over the course of about 15 seconds, so it was just long enough to have a genuine interaction, although some guests couldn’t quite process what was going on.

We simply wanted to put audiences in a place where that authentic relationship between them and Johnny—them and Jack Sparrow—could take place.

Video viewers, who really were our primary audience with this execution due to the sheer scale of reach, got to see some of our favorite moments and a glimpse at the story behind the stunt. [The video quickly racked up 13 million Facebook views and another half-million on YouTube.]

When did the concept come together?
The production itself was an extremely fast turnaround; from greenlight to production to launch of the hero video asset, this all took place over the course of about 10 days. Nobody slept very much, but it was absolutely worth it.

Talk about working with Disney and Depp.
We just wanted to get Johnny on the ride, get him connecting with fans and watch the moments happen. We knew it would work after our experience with Mad Hatter Surprise, and we just wanted to get the right scenario in place so that we could let Johnny run with it.

Johnny is a generous, gracious and brilliant creative mind and actor. He owns that character, he’s in Jack’s DNA and vice versa, so we did everything we could to set him up and let him enjoy the moment. As huge fans of the character ourselves, it was a little nerve-wracking to go into this with the self-imposed pressure to live up to Jack’s magic, and Johnny made it relaxed and delightful to achieve.

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Depp told E! News several years ago that he travels with the Sparrow costume always at the ready. He never knows, he said, when he might want to pop into a children’s hospital and entertain the kids. He did just that last year when he was filming Dead Men Tell No Tales in Australia (the selfies are adorable).

The new flick, reportedly trying to recapture the feel of the original, brings back Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, and also stars Javier Bardem and Geoffrey Rush.

Client: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Agency: Denizen Company
Title: Johnny Depp Surprises Fans as Captain Jack Sparrow at Disneyland!

Production: Denizen Company
Director: Denizen Company
Director of Photography: Hal Long
Producer: C. Fitz
Production Manager: Carmen Quiros
Production Coordinator: Sam Rowin
Bubba’s Chop Shop – Post House

Ben Silverman – Postproducer
Ian Nelson – Post Supervisor
Jennifer Gittings – Colorist
Oliver Thompson – Editor
Andrew Putschoegl – Additional Editor
Will Barton – Assistant Editor
Audio Mix: Michel Tyabji

@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.