Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean

At Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean was one of the last attractions overseen by Walt, though he did not live to see it open. Originally conceived as a walk-through wax museum in a much smaller space, Walt expanded it and converted it into a water ride after construction was already underway, so that boats could carry Guests through a larger space.

Pirates of the Caribbean, though declared an instant classic upon its unveiling at Disneyland in 1967, was not part of the Opening Day slate here at the Magic Kingdom. It was thought by the company that Guests in Florida would not be as interested in stories about the Caribbean, due to its relative proximity. But overwhelming guests requests prevailed, and it made its appearance in 1973. Just as quickly as the original, it became one of the most popular attractions in the park.

Much of the charm of Pirates of the Caribbean comes from the ability of WDI designer Marc Davis to create instantly readable sight gags that play into the nature of the world being created. Marc was one of Walt's finest character animators prior to trying his magical hand at the 3D animation that imagineering considers its stock in trade. This skill, derived from decades of drawing key frames and character designs, informed everything Marc did for WDI. Pirates is full of so many sights gags that it's hard to catch them all on your first voyage.

The chess game between the two long-gone buccaneers visible from the queue is trapped in a perpetual check. The only available move leads to a never-ending repetition of the same series of moves. One can only imagine how long they found themselves in this state before their untimely demise.

Unfortunately, the game was once disturbed during a routine rehab. When it was time to put it back the way it was, none of the imagineers were able to re-create this oddity and restore these pirates to their ever-so-static state. A search was undertaken to find the notes describing the arrangement. It wasn't until someone looked at the back of one of Marc Davis's drawings that they found a detailed sketch laying out the board just as it needed to be arranged in order for the gag to work. Talk about a complicated punch line!

Quite Simply, this is one of the very best of the Magic Kingdom's classic adventures. The beloved ten-minute cruise is a Disneylands original, added to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (in slightly revised form) due to popular demand. Here, guests board a small boat and set sail for a series of scenes showing a pirate raid on a Caribbean island town, dodging cannon fire and weathering one small, though legitimate, watery dip along the way.

There are singing marauders, plastered pigs, and wily wenches; the observant may note a couple of new rapscallion residents. Yep, that beloved scallywag Captain Jack Sparrow has dropped anchor here, as has his nefarious nemesis Captain Barbossa.

While it's by no means the most politically correct attraction on-property (far from it, actually), the rendition of "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Pirate's Life for Me" - the catchy theme song - makes what is actually a rather brutal scenario into something that comes across as good fun.

And yes! This is the attraction that inspired the Pirate of the Caribbean movies - which, in turn, inspired the attraction!

The attraction has a storyline though it's tough to grasp without repeat visits. After the 2006 revision, it now tells the tale of Capt. Barbossa's sacking of a spanish port in the Caribbean as he searches for Capt. Jack. Barbossa's men loot the village, capture its women and set fire to its buildings. Meanwhile, the sneaky Sparrow nabs the town's treasure.

The ride tells its story in flashback form. It begins with the present - a watery grotto lined with the skeletons of dead pirates - then takes you back to the past, to the golden age of piracy. You take the time trip despite the warnings of Davy Jones, the octopus-faced ocean ruler who appears in the fog.

Literally falling into the waters of an old Caribbean port, you sail between the guns of Barbossa's ship and those of a spanish fortress. As shots splash close to your boat, Barbossa yells "It's Capt. Jack we're after, and a fortune in gold!" Attempting to literally shiver Barbossa's timbers, the spanish respond with "Apenten! Disparen! Fuego!" ("Ready! Aim! Fire").

Rounding a bend, you come upon more of Barbossa's crew ina a courtyard, interrogating the mayor by dunking him in a well. "Where be Capt. Jack Sparrow and the treasure, ya bilge rat?" one demands. Actually Jack is just a few feet away, peering out from behind some dressmaker forms.

Next you sail through a bridal auction, where a band of buccaneers are selling off the town's maidens to raucous, drunken hecklers.

Another turn sends you deeper into the village. As an old pirate with a treasure map rambles on, Sparrow himself pops up out of a barrel, sneaking a peek at the old salt's map before ducking back out of sight. Behind those two, a few Spanish matrons chase looting pirates in endless circles.

Other scenes show pirates setting fire to the town and trying to escape from its jail by luring a dog that holds keys. In the finale of giddy Sparrow has found the village treasure room. Lolling on an ornate rocking chair, leg draped over an arm, he sings, slurs, and chats with a parrot.

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