Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Ravaging Rant about Pirates of the Caribbean

Avast there mateys...

As you can see from the title, I've decided it's finally time to do that Pirates of the Caribbean mega-post I’ve been hinting at on and off for a year or two now.  What better day to talk Pirates than international Talk like a Pirate Day? It’s time I gave a long, drawn-out explanation for my distaste for the Hollywood cash-cow, and what sort of crimes it committed to the attraction it was based on.

First off; for those of you who haven't learned the truth yet, (I assume that's only very small handful of readers) Pirates of the Caribbean has been a ride long before it was a movie. It was the one successful film during that phase in the early 2000's in which Disney decided to make films based off their amusement attractions. If you didn't know this prior to reading this post, then I suggest you do well to remember it now that you know. Now for a history lesson, because knowing the history will help you better understand (and /or sympathize with) my point and mindset later on.

When the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction opened in March of 1967 at Disneyland, the sheer size and spectacle was unmatched by anything in the world. What was originally planed to be just a run-of-the-mill wax museum had evolved on the drawing board into an elaborate fifteen minute boat voyage. Even to this day, it’s still one of the longest, largest, and most complex amusement attractions in existence.

The attraction received unmatched amounts of media coverage for a single amusement attraction making its debut in the off-season. In comparison: the recent opening of Disneyland’s Cars Land may have received a great amount of media attention, but it opened in-season. Radiator Springs Racers may-or-may not be as grand a spectacle as Pirates; depending on whom you ask; but attractions with the amount of audio-animatronics and larger-than-life scale that Radiator Springs Racers, Splash Mountain, and even our beloved Haunted Mansion have would not exist if Pirates hadn’t broken the barrier before them.

With media coverage that ranged from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color Television show to the world-famous Time Magazine, Pirates of the Caribbean; the attraction at Disneyland; had become a household name. Considering that this was way before the dawn of the internet and social media alone makes the media coverage Pirates received more impressive than Cars Land’s. Check out the Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color broadcast bellow; featuring the entire, professionally shot, original version of the attraction:


So popular was the Disneyland original that when Walt Disney World opened in 1971 without Pirates of the Caribbean, the guest relations department was bombarded with inquires from guests who had assumed that the east-coast Disney Park would have included duplicates of all of Disneyland’s signature attractions. They we’re confused, and demanded that a duplicate be built in Orlando as soon as possible.

I’m not going to re-tell the fateful tale of Marc Davis’ Western River Expedition here. Okay, maybe in brief, and only because I don’t want to rely on other people’s posts to bring any sense of relevance to mine.  There’s plenty of other places you can go look that up at. (Just Google Western River Expedition, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of content to sift through) Just know this if you don’t already: An attraction similar to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean was in the works for the first expansion of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom that would have taken buccaneers and replaced them with Cowboys and Indians...
...and it never got built because Pirates of the Caribbean; the Disneyland attraction; was a household name all across the country back in the 1970’s. The general public’s demand for a Pirate boat ride was placed over the similar Wild-West boat ride; and so, this brings us to our next point of interest; Walt Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean:
I’d highly suggest you read this, this and this so that you have a better understanding of what I’m talking about in this next section. Not that I don’t intend on explaining things clearly or in any depth, but those posts provide a general knowledge (and an unrelated ghost story that’s quite interesting) and sense of place that my handful of rides on the original version of Walt Disney World’s Pirates won’t be able to create.

So, continuing onward; Walt Disney World’s mob of angry pirate lovers got their wish… well, sort of. I did use the word “duplicate” in my brief summary of their demands. Well, they got Pirates, but didn’t get a duplicate. What they got was the shortest version of the four Pirates of the Caribbean attractions in existence. Orlando didn’t get a Lagoon or Bayou scene with an accompanying indoor restaurant. Nor did they get two waterfall drops. They only got one slide, one or two of the haunted grotto vintages (the scenes depicting the skeletons of dead pirates) and the attraction only took about half the time it took to experience the original in Anaheim. This is where many (including me when I get angry about the state of Pirates in the Magic Kingdom as of today) would end this portion of the post with the following words; summing up the version of Pirates that Orlando received at the end of 1973: Half-Assed.

But this isn’t the end of this portion. Walt Disney World’s Pirates was (you’ll understand why I’m using past tense in regards to certain aspects of the Orlando incarnation once you’ve gotten further into the post) a different attraction all together. It wasn’t meant to be a direct lift, if you will, of the Disneyland version. It had a unique story of its own. Unlike the Disneyland version; where you experience plenty of “time-travel” and jump hundreds of miles across the globe to various locations; all within a little over fifteen minutes; everything that happened in the Walt Disney World version was meant to be happening exactly as you experienced it. What do I mean by this? This will require a little bit of time-travel in itself to explain; we’re going to jump back to Disneyland’s Pirates for a brief explanation that will better your grasp on what made the non-time-traveling version in Orlando unique.

For those of you who don’t know, or have never realized (this explanation could cover a very broad spectrum of readers) the Disneyland version of Pirates of the Caribbean begins in the blue bayou. When guests enter the blue bayou, they are still in what we’ll call the present (meaning that they are not experiencing any form of time-travel) storyline-wise. They have, however, jumped quite a few miles from their storyline point-of-entry; New Orleans Square; into the backwoods somewhere out of town; only by walking a short distance. Only once the boats enter a dark, brick-lined, sewer-like passage off the bayou do they begin to experience the “time-travel” that’s crucial to the original version.

The boats spills over a waterfall in total darkness, and emerge in a cavernous grotto filled with the sounds of roaring water, and the skeletal remains of Pirates, posed in what can be thought of as their final acts before death. Example; the pirate seen here was examining his vast amount of plundered treasure right before he died; thus, his skeletal remains sit untouched in that same position in which he died. What has just happened, though; storyline wise; is that we’ve been transported from that calm little bayou, all the way to a grotto somewhere in the Caribbean; and all by going down a waterfall. Whether or not we’ve experienced time-travel yet is up to the rider’s interpretation as of this point. Although I doubt that a cave filled with millions of dollars worth of gold and unidentified human remains would go untouched anywhere in the world as of 2012, I guess there’s that chance it’s a secret cave nobody knows about? Or maybe we’ve just jumped back in time to a point right after the pirates died? (And had time to decompose) Ether way, the misty tunnel at the end of the grotto is where the real time travel occurs in the storyline. Now occupied by the disembodied heads of Davy Jones and Ian McShane projected onto a waterfall, used to be only a tunnel with ghostly narration tracks. It is in this point in the ride that we are most definitely experiencing storyline time-travel.

We round a corner and exit the caverns to find ourselves in the middle of a harbor under siege. We have made the jump from the present (and from New Orleans Square) back to the golden age of Piracy (in the Caribbean) in approximately ten minutes time. Of course, at some point, we have to go back to the present, right? Well, we magically climb a waterfall near the end of our voyage; just in the nick of time too, as the pirates have set fire to the town, and are now firing pot-shots at one another in the town’s arsenal. We can safely infer that at some point; most likely right after we begin our time-travel to the present, that one of the plastered pillagers hits one of the many kegs of gunpowder in the arsenal, causing the whole town to basically go boom.  Prior to the 2006 rehab of the Disneyland version, you even passed the skeletal remains of a group of pirates who died while trying to escape with their heavy loads of treasure on your way up the waterfall to the present; sort of like a flash of what was seen earlier in the grotto before reaching the furthest point back in time.

The Orlando version is housed in a Spanish Fortress, and everything that happened was meant to happen in the present prior to 2006. Sure, you do time-travel to get back to the golden age of Piracy; but that time-travel had already occurred before you even stepped foot into Caribbean Plaza. That Spanish Fortress is meant to be the same fortress you see from the harbor during the battle scene inside the ride. In fact, you used to be able to hear canon fire outside as you approached the fortress from Adventureland. You used to be greeted by an audio-animatronic parrot barker; complete with a peg-leg and eye-patch. He’d squawk about what adventure awaited inside the fortress, and sing Yo-Ho every now and then.

Inside the fortress is one of the Orlando versions few one-ups on the original version in Anaheim; the dungeon themed queuing area. You can read a much more in-depth description of this amazing environment here. Just know this; the dungeons used to include a vastly different arrangement of audio compared to what is there now. Today, you will find that George Burn’s Pirate Overture is the only piece of audio that you’ll hear until you reach your boat. Prior to 2006, however, the Pirate Overture was never heard in Orlando. Instead, an eerie piece of music called Pirate’s Arcade was used, and only in certain parts of the queuing area. The sounds of the Spanish Soldiers marching and pacing around on the levels above the dungeons; preparing for the oncoming pirate assault could be heard echoing about the queue. The main underline chorus track of Yo-Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me would echo down the halls using an early “soft-spot” speaker system, (Basically a very early processor to what is now used to amaze the ears in the Haunted Mansion’s stretching room, allowing the Ghost Host’s voice to float about the room) leading one to believe that the pirates had already found their way into the fortress and could be waiting around any corner. You can enjoy a rare source mix of what this all sounded like bellow:

Pirates of the Caribbean Queue (WDW - Pre 2006) by Strange&FrighteningSounds

In the Orlando storyline prior to 2006, guests would board boats in a cove under the fort as a means of evacuation to safety. The Pirates aren’t something to joke about, as the sounds of the soldiers preparing would tell you. Guests were sent on their way in the boats down a cavernous passage, and what is assumed to be safety. However, nothing ended up going according to plan. Wherever the Spaniards intended to send guests to safety wasn't where the tide carried them off too. Even before boarding, guests could hear the distant sounds of pirates digging for loot in a cave off to the side of the boarding area; inferring that they we're getting closer by the minute. The cavernous abyss the boats entered was probably one of the scariest environments that ever existed in a Disney Theme Park. Listen to this audio cue to get an idea of what the environment used to sound like after rounding the first bend in the Orlando version, prior to 2006:
Howling wind; thunder claps; rushing water; skeletons and darkness; that’s what awaited riders in the grottos at Orlando prior to 2006. Sure, Orlando only got two of the five vintages that Anaheim had; but they made up for it by creating an atmosphere that would be enough to make anyone under the age of seven piss their pants. The skeletons seen in the Orlando version could have been inferred as the remains of pirates whom had died prior to the storyline events that guests experienced. Orlando also had a talking skull; but he didn’t spot off any recycled audio from Anaheim; here’s the transcript for the talking skull in Orlando:
Ahoy there mattes; Man the helm and hold on tight; there be squalls ahead. Huh-huh-ha; Dead men tell no tales.

Avast there lubbers; there be rough waters ahead. Sit close together and keep yer’ ruddy hands in-board; Dead men tell no tales; Arrh!
The boats then proceed over a slide (I’ll never be able to call it a drop) into a short tunnel, (Where the boats encounter a really rough portion of the trough that tosses the riders around) where a shortened version of the spiel used in Disneyland’s time-travel tunnel was heard. The boats then precede onward into the same scenes as the Disneyland version; the harbor and town scenes. Even then, there were some unique additions to the Orlando version in these parts. Most notably, the character known as Old Bill with his stray cats was an Orlando original. You heard that right; Old Bill was in Orlando before he showed up in Disneyland. He was added to Orlando because he’s used to distract riders during an extended section of trough in the chase scene where; on the opposite side of the river; the maintenance trough splits off from the show-portion of the trough. At Disneyland, this section of track is found earlier in the ride, so the addition of Old Bill in Anaheim happened only because he was so popular in Orlando and Disneyland wanted one too. 

Something not as many people mention was the shattering flower pot in the Auction scene. At Disneyland; and as of 2006, Orlando as well; the guard on the left side of the trough shoots at the hecklers on the left side. When he does this, he always misses. (Can you imagine if they had decided to have one of the pirates get shot? He’d be getting shot and killed on cue once every minute!) As of now, the guard ends up hitting a metal sign-post. But prior to 2006 in Orlando, his stray bullet used to ricochet and shatter a flower pot. Amazingly, the pot would shatter, and then piece itself back together for the next go-round; as the scene replays itself once every 60-seconds. While I don’t have video of this amazing effect, you can hear the pot shattering in this video.

The most noted addition to the Orlando version was the treasure room finale. This scene, which replaced the Arsenal found in the Disneyland version, had the Pirates coming out on top in the end. Bound and gagged guards sat in the middle of the room while the pirates partook in similar drunken target practice to the characters in the arsenal scene in Anaheim. Treasure was a big theme in Orlando; even bigger than in Anaheim. (Even though Pirates and Treasure go hand-in-hand) The Pirates were heard burying their treasure right before boarding the boats (and they still can; they haven't completely muted the old speaker in the cave. You've just got to listen really closely if you want to hear them); they ended up raiding the town treasure room as the show came to a close. But even before 2006, the chase scene in Orlando has been about treasure too.

After numerous complaints from guests about the sexual tension in the vintages pictured bellow…
…Disneyland and Walt Disney World ended up altering their respective versions of what is commonly referred to as the chase scene in the mid 1990's. They call it the chase scene because no matter what incarnation of the scene you look at over the course of the ride's history, there's always someone chasing someone else in it. Disneyland decided to have their pirates looking for food instead of sexual adventures. Walt Disney World decide to have their pirates looking for treasure instead of grub. The Pooped Pirate, as he’s called, was given a treasure map (along with a new costume) to hold in place of the women’s underwear he had been clutching since the ride had opened. Here’s a (rough) transcript of what he had to say in his pre-2006 treasure hunting days:
Avast mattes; it be treasure I’m after; I’d been’ lookin’ for the X that marks the spot; but now I be tired as a Swabby in the stars. Me and the treasure be westward bound. Here I be seeing the X’s a’ forming; X marks the spot says me, but there be no X’s around the location. *Sigh* Aye’ should’ve known better then to steal a treasure map from a pilfering, cheat’n old bilged rat of a Pirate! This map I be hold’n says X marks the spot; but I be seen’n no X’s around on this spot! Ahoy there ya lubbers; if ye’ be seeing any X’s about, shove off! The treasure chest be mine I tell ye’, all mine! Tell me where the X lies or I’ll be kick’n yer’ stern side off the end of a choke-heavin’ plank! *Laughs*
The young lady remained in the barrel behind the morbidly obese pirate in Orlando all the way until 2006. Alas, this is where I think we need to jump to the release of the movie. We’ll return to the ride in a moment.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was launched onto the silver screen in the summer of 2003. Surprisingly, it didn’t tank. In fact, it did the complete opposite of tank. It did wonders at the box office. You can read a previous, much shorter post here which covers what this post (the one you’re reading now) was going to be about before I decide to write it. What it really does is describe what caused the movies to end up finding their way into the ride. I really don't want to copy and paste a previous blog post into this one. It's long enough as it is.

The original Disneyland attraction was the first to get the modifications that followed the sequel Pirate’s of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Three Jack Sparrow audio-animatronic were added to the ride, along with one Hector Barbossa audio-animatronic; a Davy Jones waterfall projection effect; several new music cues (made to sound similar to the style of the film’s score by Hans Zimmer; or in some cases, actually composed by Hans Zimmer). You can hear the new instrumentation of Yo-Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me in the video bellow:


At Disneyland, I’d have to honestly say that the rehab was handled better than I would have anticipated. The new pipe organ versions of Yo-Ho are some of my favorite cues of music; and while I enjoyed the original underline instrumental to the burning the town finale, I really prefer the new accordion, strings and acoustic guitar rendition of the jolly pirate song. The pan-flute version of Yo-Ho in the grotto scene is calming, but fitting where it’s been placed. We’ll save my problems with the whole update once I explain the disaster that took place in Orlando when they added the movie additions in 2006.

Disney likes to re-write its history to be in its best interest. That’s always been clear. But the terrible explanations I heard directly from the mouths of the Imaginers in charge of the Orlando version’s enhancement project (if you really can call it an enhancement) while watching The Magic Kingdom: Imagineering the Magic, a 2-Disc DVD that you can find available at various stores in the parks. The way they explained it on the DVD, you’d think they had never been to the Orlando version of Pirates before. The way they spoke made it sound as though they thought it was just a shooter version of the original in Anaheim (where they all spend most of their time) without any sort of storyline variation. All smiles, one of them claimed that they were putting a figure back in the barrel behind the Pooped Pirate after a cat had been in there for a number of years.

At Disneyland, when they modified the chase scene and turned it into the gluttony scene; yes; they did remove the girl in the barrel and replace her with a static cat that popped out of it. But that was Disneyland. Orlando has always had a figure in the barrel. I mentioned that the one was “all smiles”, because that’s part of what makes me angry. They didn’t do their research, and they screwed up the Orlando version. Yes; as of the 2006 movie refurbishment, I will agree with my previous finding; it’s Half-Assed. What was once a unique, slightly shorter version is now just a half-assed attempt to bring the same storyline to Orlando in a rushed fashion. It’s like they didn’t even try to work with what was already there.

Orlando lost far more then Anaheim did in the refurbishment. No longer does Orlando have its unique barker bird; its unique queuing area music; its talking skull; and its shattering flower pot. The treasure room scene; which once featured seven audio-animatronic humans; has been reduced to one drunken Johnny Depp robot and a talking Parrot. The grotto’s once terrifying mood has been completely inverted. What would once cause children to mess themselves has been reduced to an atmosphere in which the same children could be lulled to sleep by the gentle pan-flue version of Yo-Ho. Not to mention that time-travel can now be inferred in the storyline, as nothing in the queuing area gives you any indication that the fort is actually begging used to combat oncoming pirates. Yes sir; they didn’t do the Orlando version any real favors during the rehab.

So yeah; why don’t I like the movie series? I’ll be honest here. They really don't do a whole lot for me. I don’t hate really them though. They are, at best, tolerable. They aren’t the easiest things to follow, and I've never really wanted to actually look to in depth at them due to the result of what they did to the attractions. They aren’t terrible though. Terrible would be the movie based on Country Bear Jamboree, which I urge you all to forget even exists. But it’s that added factor of knowing it only takes another movie to either remove more from the attractions to make room for more movie based additions; and it only takes another film to force Disneyland Paris to change their version of the attraction; which is the only one left in its original state. (And it should stay that way; you can read my review of it, and see my HD Video of it here) That’s the reason I don’t like the Hollywood franchise known as Pirates of the Caribbean. Because I’ve been a fan of the attraction since I was very young, and I’m flabbergasted at how many people I meet who don’t know that the attraction came first. Over 30 years before it was a movie, it was a ride that broke ground, and was known across the country. Now it’s a movie franchise, and you’re hard pressed to find someone who knows it was a ride before it was a movie. That’s why; because I miss what it used to be.

Now onto the final portion of this massive post: deciphering the new storyline. To better understand what I'm talking about in this section, you should probably watch this video of the Disneyland version I filmed earlier this year to get a grip on what's going on in the attraction as of today, unless of course every detail in the ride is common knowledge to you.
"Alas, I'm not alone in the world after all..."


Jack Sparrow and Barbossa’s introduction to the ride has altered the storyline of the ride, no doubt about it. Sure, it could have been far worse and far more destructive in terms of what got pulled to make room for it; but it sure as hell could have been far less confusing. For starters, why the hell is Carlos the Mayor hiding Jack Sparrow from the rest of the pirates during the well scene? I can understand him not revealing the location of the town treasure room; but why would he take any sort of chance on his life to protect a pirate from another pirate? You can assume that Carlos does know the location of Jack Sparrow, merely because Jack's attention is focused on the dunking. Why would he be watching Carlos being tortured with such interest when a a group of windsom women are being auctioned off across the river? He clearly fears that Carlos might be "chee-kin", and that he'll rat him out at some point. This leads us to another unexplained plot hole: why the hell does every pirate want to find Jack Sparrow just as much as the treasure? It’s revealed in the chase scene that the Pooped Pirate is the one in possession of the treasure map, and “this lovely key to the treasure room”, so why do they need Jack if he’s not the one with the two items needed to obtain the treasure with? These simple questions alone reveal just how sloppy the new storyline is. But I’ll stop the complaining about it there. I don’t need them to mess around with it more just to make the storyline clear. That might mean more dialogue changes, or the removal of several more original scenes, or characters, or audio clips, or music cues, or…yeah, you get it...

I know the movie additions aren’t going away any time soon. I've gotten used to them, because I had to. I don’t like all of them a whole lot, but I deal. That’s something you haters of the Haunted Mansion’s new queuing area need to start doing. There are plenty of people who prefer seeing Jack Sparrow in the ride the Movie was based on. I may not be one of them, but I have to deal with it every time I ride the attraction, because I can’t go to a Disney Park and not ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

I hope you enjoyed my ramble, or at least got something out of it. Be it entertainment, new found knowledge, or enlightenment, or whatever. I never really thought I'd ever be able to do this particular post. I know it was hard enough trying to organize my thoughts into something that was understandable. This was never really intended to be anything more than a rant; an outlet for my personal views on one of my favorite attractions. Happy International Talk like a Pirate Day ya' swabbies!

S&FS