Monday, February 20, 2006

Last Call for Pirates of the Caribbean

This is the last weekend to ride Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland before it closes for renovations and depprivations. We can only hope they don't screw it up and turn it into something out of the Universal Studios tour.

Pirates is a classic ride, opened in February 1967, the last Disneyland attraction supervised personally by Walt himself, and 39 years in, it remains one timeless, transporting Disneyland adventure—audio-animatronic, politically incorrect, scary, funny and awe-inspiring in a way the new movies just can’t be.

It’s on water, a boat ride, a journey that moves through the darkness, plunging into an abyss and into another world: a pirate seige of a Caribbean village, from initial sea attack through looting, gluttony, greed, and conflict, all to a jaunty pirate tune. The ride was refurbished in 1997 in a stab at political correctness, and several gags hinting at sexual assault or exploitation were altered (where a pirate once chased a woman, he now chases a woman carrying a food tray)— though the most blatant example, with women being auctioned, remains.

This time around, they’re adding figures representing Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) from the successful movie (and series) the ride inspired. It would be a shame and cheat the kids if the figures look too much like Madame Tussaud replicas, because seeing real-life movie stars in the middle of all these life-like yet definitely cartoonish, odd-shaped figures will surely slide this experience from Disneyana wonder to Eisnerana tie-in (though we have to admit, they could stuff Mackenzie Crook, stick him somewhere along the boat channel, and he'd fit right in).

We visited the park last week, specifically to take one last ride. As the Theme Park Insider posts: “You begin your adventure by floating gently through the Blue Bayou, only to drift into a forgotten crypt. Ignoring the warning to turn back, you plunge into a fantastic dream of pirates, treasure and battles upon both sea and land. Yet the enduring musical theme by X. Atencio and George Bruns keeps the mood joyous throughout. Only the most sensitive toddlers will not find something here to elicit a smile.”

Actually, Sam was a sensitive toddler and screamed his head off with a healthy "Get me out of here!" from the moment we took that dip from the bayou and into the tomb, but that was when he was about three or four and every dark Disney ride is a bit scarier than you remember. But yes, in its final days, Pirates remains refreshingly politically incorrect, with debauchery, torture, drinking, sexiness and gunplay. Last week, our little one kept her eyes closed through the scarier parts and dug in the fingernails with each cannonball splash, but was more alarmed by the particularly bumpy and creaky boatride, which seems in need of repairs, as well. The ride was rough and stop-and-start, and strained on the final climb to the exit.

When we did walk out into the light, one of the Disneyland workers with a clipboard stopped us by the entrance to Club 33 and polled us about what we thought of the ride and whether we ”noticed anything new” on it. Which made us wonder if they’d already slipped in a new character or two-- and if they did and we didn’t notice, all the better.

The ride will reopen on June 24, in time for the new Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest movie on July 7. We’ll have our report. Send us yours.

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