My last trip to Walt Disney World was with my uncle in October 2016. Now naturally, whenever you’re at one of the Disney parks, Pirates of the Caribbean is one of those classical rides you simply have to go on every visit. As we were waiting in the outside portion of the waiting queue, we sure enough heard the famous Hans Zimmer score blaring at the entrance. I then made a snide remark to my uncle saying, “today’s generation of kids will never know the ride came first.”
Well, turns out it applies not just to kids born after 2003, even those around my age completely believe the movie came first. Heck, my roommate, a nineteen-year-old, learned the truth recently, and in high school I had a big debate about it with one of classmates. Although I personally have very fond memories of going on the ride when I was really little, even having a 90’s Disney sing-along VHS featuring “Yo Ho a Pirate’s Life for Me.” So when I heard they were making a movie off of it, I immediately thought, “what?” Now, Disney had not long before then made a movie off another one of their attractions, The Country Bears, which I saw as nothing but another one of those “come and go” types of movies. The same went to Eddie Murphy’s celebrity vehicle based off The Haunted Mansion. So my reaction to a movie based off Pirates of the Caribbean did not grasp me much.
Yeah, sorry. I am not at all a fan of the sequels. Dead Man’s Chest had imaginative designs but wasn’t as engaging as the first; At World’s End pained me to sit through; On Stranger Tides I barely even remembered; and Dead Men Tell No Tales was just stupid. But the first one, which I watched again recently, still holds up amazingly well. Think about it: the ride had no definitive story or characters to adapt the film from, so it all had to be created from imagination. They expressed loyalty to the ride by pulling out the various scenes, which they ended up achieving in a subtle, not so forced way:
But it seems like with all the other sequels, even the producers themselves forgot their origins, as all the ways they went bigger in the franchise ventured too far from the jolly ravaging of the ride. Things like pirates reincarnated by the ocean, witches, cannibals, krakkens, children getting hanged, mermaids, ghost armies, and zombie sharks were definitely not part of Walt’s original vision in 1967. Yet they made it in there, whether he wanted it or not.
We all know by now that the ride in both Disneyland and Disney World were revamped in 2006 to fit in with the movies, since after all, they became more popular than the ride ever was. Too many kids were going through wondering how on earth these cartoonish pirates singing about ravaging had anything to do with Captain Jack Sparrow. So it became the only the proper solution, which I honestly believe was the right choice. When I went on the Disneyland ride in 2008; I got such a huge kick out of the transparent waterfall with Captain Davy Jones’ face projected onto it. Then I got an even bigger kick out of not one, not two, but three Captain Jack Sparrows scattered throughout the ride!
Although others from what I learned were mad about it, as it altered the entire narrative from being about pirates joyfully plundering a Caribbean city to a wide search for Captain Jack Sparrow’s treasure. I lately found an article by Kotaku which sums the disappointment up perfectly. In some regards, I understand. Now, two entirely different interpretations of the same idea competed for relevance, only to settle on a compromise without a clear vision. Similar to how oil and water don’t mix, the old romanticized interpretation cannot coexist with the darker, grittier version. But oddly enough, I have no complaints.
I mean, Disney cares about pleasing the kids, the parents, the in-betweens, everyone. So they have to keep up with the times while also respecting the memories of the previous generations. As for myself, the enjoyment I felt as a child remains unscathed. Yet I also enjoy the first movie, which they incorporated into the ride so all other fans can have a jolly old time. I don’t even mind the incorporation of the sequels, as much as I loathe them, as they add to the entertainment. I even recall during my last time riding seeing a mermaid skeleton in the grotto scene as a reference to the fourth movie. I didn’t mind it as much, as it remained true to the old spirit of the ride.
I hope Disney learns to listen to what Walt wanted to happen to his legacy. I believe he would have smiled if he saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean, but feel a bit uneasy after seeing the next four installments rely more on milking its success over telling an engaging story rich with history. He has always been a man set on dreaming about improving the wonders of technology, but he also was a man who wanted to use technology as a means to preserve the experiences of our history, which Walt’s attractions The Hall of Presidents and Carousel of Progress celebrate. Even today many purists still working for Disney, such as John Lasseter, understand how “the art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.”
That explains why so many people have loved Pirates of the Caribbean for the last fifty years. It utilized some spectacular technology to place you within the mind of the imagineers. What was originally planned to be a wax museum of famous pirates instead became a thrilling boat ride showcasing the best of what audio animatronic technology can do. Today’s artists working with the cinematic franchise have attempted to stay true to its legacy, but sadly have lost their way because they had something greener in their heads *ahem* wallets. I personally would love for today’s generation of kids to enjoy the Disney park attraction in the same way their parents and grandparents did, but they also should enjoy the incredibly fun movie inspired by it. It is a shame they’ll never know what the ride was like before the movie, but know what Walt Disney said: “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
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