Monday, August 28, 2006

Johnny Depp is the new Mickey Mouse

For the first time in memory, the real world is making an impact on the crowd flow beyond the fences of Disneyland, and has led the synergistic corporation to make the park's new mascot an acclaimed, non-animated hipster movie star who lives in France.

The Pirates of the Caribbean ride, an old school favorite that was always a short wait amid hour-long queues for more timely attractions, is now the hit of the park, thanks to the success of the latest Pirates movie and a makeover that includes the addition of Johnny Depp as pirate Jack Sparrow on the ride and in the ads.

Lines snake around the once-sleepy New Orleans Square. A scurvy pirate spins tales aboard the Sailing Ship Columbia ( a murderous pirate of a boat itself, having killed a tourist seven years back, when a metal cleat sprang loose and knocked his head off his body), and, in a smart corporate decision to keep parkgoers’ minds off the memories of bloated bodies floating down Front Street, a band of pirates sings chanteys where the Dixieland bands once swayed. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp is everywhere, with his photo replacing Mickey’s on the park maps, on banners along Downtown Disney and on Pirates merchandise in every store.

The success should have the Disney developers racing to scribble out Splash Mountain or Jungle Cruise scripts. And now that Spielberg is talking about another Indiana Jones installment, get ready for Harrison Ford motorized wheelchairs in 2008.

Meanwhile, the interactive Buzz Lightyear attraction over in Tomorrowland is getting more of the young male audience, and is a good example of how can throw in a video game element (riders earn points zapping targets with laser guns) while staying true to the traditional Disney themes.

But through it all, beyond the rising prices and skyrocketing hotel rates that will soon price out the young families that are the core of the park’s audience, the highlights of the park are the most timeless like the Saturday night swing band and the dancers it attracts to the Carnation Plaza Gardens pavillion (this weekend it was Stompy Jones, with a sax player who wailed like a G-rated Sam Butera).

(Disneyana expert and Hollywood Thoughts columnist Jon Crowley promises more insight into the Deppification of Pirates today. Our staffers planned to meet up with him at the ride yesterday, but we lost contact somewhere after his late arrival at the parking structure…)

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