The Complete Canonical List of the Best Animated Film Tie-Ins Ever – Part 3

Well now. That was an adventure, wasn’t it?

Things couldn’t be better than they are, here in the fabulous 2010s.

Parkeology hit the global media market in a big way. Our faces were on seemingly every TV channel in the country. A guy named John Cameron Swayze gave us all the news. A lot of singing and fluff, but it’s fun.

Major newspapers from London to New York carried articles on us, and the Parkeology exploits traveled from New York to Los Angeles in less than seven days.

And I even hear tell of some brothers from North Carolina who are working on some kind of WDW48-ride-vehicle-contraption. Heh heh. It’ll never work.

Yes, we’ve got all the latest inventions. Twitter accounts, Youtube videos, Facebook pages. And some kind of innate ability for news media to use the worst screen grabs of our faces ever. They are also mildly obsessed with calling us “middle-aged.” That may be true of Ted, but this parkeologist is still just a youngster, don’t you know.

And now I’m mixing up animatronic stage show quotes.

Anyway, thanks to all the new riders who found/followed/subscribed to us on that whirlwind journey that was WDW46, and a warm welcome back to those of you who made it. And a friendly word of warning, one you won’t find in any guidebook:

What we do 99% of the time on parkeology has nothing to do with outrageously stupid theme park quests, and mostly has to do with obsessing over the obscure, incredible, intricate details of the parks. In fact, we were in the middle of a series of articles on the greatest theme park tie-ins to the official canonical list of Disney animated features. We may have been detoured (“Brakes? Brakes! Where are the brakes?”) but it’s time to dive back in. Journey with us now, to the dawn of recorded time. Or at least to the dark ages of animated films.

We welcome you, to the 1980s. We welcome you… to SeaBase Alpha.

#29 – The Rescuers Down Under

Oh good grief. What a way to start. This somewhat forgotten sequel (actually from 1990) to the somewhat forgotten original Rescuers film never really had a chance to blossom in the parks. The pickings are slim, my friends.

Bernard and Bianca appeared as walk-around characters (and still very rarely do, though mostly in Tokyo). But they are usually more evocative of the 1970s original film then of this sequel.

The film is not terrible, and some of the animation montages will include it. Marahute the golden eagle will often get a brief clip during any “You Can Fly” number from the various animation attractions.

However, the best park tie-in to emerge from the Rescuers Down Under is actually at Epcot in Future World.

Sound strange? It is, but that glorious Future World fountain has an entire sequence choreographed to the Rescuers Down Under opening credits music.

That sounds noble. It does. But also, we must remember that the Future World fountain also has an entire sequence choreographed to music from the 1994 dogsledding movie Iron Will. So do with that what you will.

So when do we get some water dancing set to the stirring music of the Journey of Natty Gann?

So when do we get some water dancing set to the stirring music of the Journey of Natty Gann?

Photo by Express Monorail

#28 – The Little Mermaid

The one that started the renaissance. The second golden age really began with the Little Mermaid, which caught audiences by storm in 1989 and ushered in a new dawn of Disney cartoon musicals.

And yet somehow it took them more than decade to build a ride after it.

Little Mermaid got the standard 90s treatment: Stage shows and parade performances. At Walt Disney World, she also managed to carve out part of the defunct sub lagoon for a greeting area called Ariel’s Grotto. Scuttles the seagull also became the proprietor of a snack stand next to Dumbo.

Voyage of the Little Mermaid opened at Disney MGM Studios, a decent black-light puppet and live actor stage show, and of course the music turned up everywhere, from Spectromagic to Fantasmic.

It was not until the opening of Tokyo DisneySea in 2001 when Little Mermaid finally got serious theme park attention. The film is the basis for the entire themed land of Mermaid Lagoon, housed almost entirely indoors. Unfortunately, the attractions in Mermaid Lagoon are of the off-the-shelf type. There’s Flounder’s Flying Fish coaster (kiddie coaster), a Jumpin’ Jellyfish parachute drop, some sort of seashell version of the teacups.

It also had a rather artistic live show, with Ariel on arials — wires that would make the live performer seem to float through the ocean.

Then a decade later, Disney’s California Adventure added the first full-length dark ride based on the movie. It was billed as a major E-ticket, and ended up being a solid D-ticket. Disney World cloned it into New Fantasyland, and added a breathtaking show building on top of it, and that, my friends, is probably the best park tie-in.

Prince Eric’s castle and the surrounding rockwork and grottos are some of the Magic Kingdom’s most beautiful sights, and the ride is easily on par with the classic Fantasyland dark rides (and usually longer).

After losing the 20K Lagoon, it's amazing that we finally get to see something this beautiful again.

After losing the 20K Lagoon, it’s amazing that we finally get to see something this beautiful again.

Photo by Scott Smith

#27 – Oliver and Company

The one that did NOT start the renaissance. I recently re-watched this “classic” and I can safely say that it’s hard to see them making the jump from this to Little Mermaid. Oliver is cringe-inducing and pandering.

It’s easy to see why it never really found a home in the parks. The characters are all dogs and cats, so walk-arounds are difficult. The film got a few token clips in various montages (Dodger in particular shows up in one of the bubbles during the Florida version of Fantasmic).

If I’m going to be forced to pick something, I’m going to go off the reservation and choose a segment from the Grand Opening of the Disney MGM Studios. I had this special on grainy VHS and watched it over and over and over (John Ritter is hilarious). One of the selling points of the new park was that the New Mickey Mouse Club was filmed there, and the Mouseketeers are featured in the Grand Opening at the 17:35 mark, performing “Why Should I Worry?” from Oliver and Company. I’m not sure if Christina, Justin, and Brittany are in this cast, but they might be. It won’t make the number any better.

#26 – The Great Mouse Detective

Uh-oh. I’m, uh, not sure what to do with this one. I actually like the movie much better than Oliver and Company, but this is apparently during Disney’s “classic English literature character done with animals” phase, and references to the Great Mouse Detective are few and far between in the parks.

You would think that Ratigan, one of the most bombastic villains, would have made a great walk around character, and I think maybe he was around briefly (but only very, very briefly).

Okay, I wasn’t going to use this one unless I absolutely have to, because it’s basically just an image of the characters. But as images go, it’s a legendary one.

I’m referring to the Bill Justice character mural that once graced the wall outside the Walt Disney Story at the Magic Kingdom. This one was truly amazing, with lots of obscure characters. This mural for the longest time was actually one of the greatest relics of the modern parkeology era. The Walt Disney Story closed decades ago, but the mural remained, hidden deep inside the old theater, and was often considered a backstage area. Stumbling across it as I did after so many years of forgetting all about it was one of the happier days of my early parkeological career (this was before the blog existed).

Sadly, the mural is no more. But it is of significance to the Great Mouse Detective, because characters from that movie were the last to be added to the mural. None of the other recent characters from Little Mermaid and beyond were ever included.

#25 – The Black Cauldron

I am not going to lie. The Black Cauldron is, to me, the single worst animated film Disney has ever produced. It is an incoherent mess of a story, almost completely without any redeeming factor. I can count on one hand the number of readers who can name 3 characters from it. I’ll even spot you Gurgi and the Horned King.

Personal anecdote: The Black Cauldron was released in 1985. It is to my great shame that my stupid, Disney-can-do-no-wrong self proclaimed it better than the other big movie that came out around the same time, which starred Michael J. Fox and a time-travelling DeLorean. Rating the Black Cauldron higher than that masterpiece is one of my life’s biggest regrets.

Having said that, Black Cauldron actually managed to snag itself a snack stand at Magic Kingdom. Gurgi’s Munchies and Crunchies is still around — well, the venue is, though it has changed names about a hundred times since then. Now it’s called The Friar’s Nook. It’s in Fantasyland. It’s forgettable.

But as is sometimes the case with fate’s weird sense of humor, the worst film on the entire list also gets one of the most delightfully obscure major attraction tie-ins (at least to American audiences).

The Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour at Tokyo Disneyland was an odd walk-through thing that ran from the mid-80s to 2006. It has one of those “Villains Hijack the Proceedings” plots, and culminates in an encounter with the Horned King and the Black Cauldron. Seriously, somebody in Tokyo thought the Black Cauldron deserved a rather elaborate finale in a mid-level attraction.

If I could go back in time and experience any lost Disney attraction on the planet...

If I could go back in time and experience any lost Disney attraction on the planet…

Say what you want about my middle-aged co-parkeologist Ted, but he will always be the only friend I personally know who has been chosen to wield the Sword of Light against the Horned King, and received the awesome medal reward from the cast members. I’m not joking, it’s like a big production or something.

He claims it’s because the Japanese always pick goofy white guys as the “volunteer.” Clearly they have seen our WDW46 screengrabs.

#24 – The Fox and the Hound

Another awful movie from the 80s, which is even more pandering than Oliver and Company, if that is possible.

The main characters are a fox and a hound. Go figure. No character greeting areas then.

I’m going to choose the ultimate cop-out and go with an Emporium window display at Disneyland. The less said about this movie, the better.

Off-Model and shrouded in darkness... sounds about right.

Off-Model and shrouded in darkness… sounds about right.

Photo by Castles, Capes, and Clones

#23 – The Rescuers

Suddenly we’re in the groovy 70s! The year is 1977. Star Wars is still in theaters. Bell bottoms are all the rage. And this pandering (imagine that) story about 2 mice rescuing an orphan explodes onto the world theme park stage.

Okay, no it doesn’t. The Rescuers got the aforementioned walkaround of Bernard and Bianca, and even had Orville the Albatross and Evinrude the dragonfly, as seen in this beautifully vintage picture.

#22 – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Finally. After a lot of dreck, we’ve arrived back at a good movie. This movie was a sort of anthology, combining a few different Winnie the Pooh featurettes as one movie, but it strikes the perfect note and is one of the truly enduring Disney classic movies.

Pooh is one of those few Disney characters that has universal recognition and appeal. Much like Mickey and the gang, he is a pervasive character in the parks, and practically owns the merchandise shelves (though he has given some ground to princesses in recent years).

Pooh’s walk-around character has undergone a few changes over the years (the oddest example was when he had a honey pot on his head). And of course his supporting cast (Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, etc.) are just as popular.

Winnie the Pooh even ran for President in 1972 and 1976. This included daily campaign parades at Disneyland a stage show of sorts. It’s unclear why Disney thought Pooh made the best candidate from their repertoire of characters, but if anyone could be considered incorruptible, it is Pooh Bear.

But in terms of major attractions, it took a long time before Winnie the Pooh finally came into his own. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of beloved Mr. Toad. In the late 90s, Pooh evicted J. Thaddeus Toad for his own ride at the Magic Kingdom, named with the exact same title as his movie. Though Toad proponents rightfully mourn the loss of the Wild Ride, it should be noted that the Pooh ride is very well done, and deserves its place in Fantasyland — especially with its more intricate queue that was added only a few years ago.

Pooh then made his way to Disneyland, where he again managed to stick his foot in the proverbial honey pot by evicting another classic attraction in the Country Bear Jamboree. The Disneyland ride is very similar to Florida’s version, perhaps a tad worse.

But the piece de resistance came when Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was added to Tokyo Disneyland. Here is an absolutely breathtaking E-ticket level ride for families that is a marvel of technological engineering and oozing with charm.

It is clearly the best version of a Pooh ride anywhere, and among the best attractions in the entire world.

#21 – Robin Hood

Here we go again, English lit characters as animals. At least this time, they are anthropomorphic animals, which is actually a pretty unique way to tackle the Robin Hood story.

Though time has illuminated me of its flaws, Robin Hood was for the longest time my favorite animated film, and the fox himself remains my favorite Disney character.

Unfortunately, Robin Hood has never really had much of a presence in the parks, except as a walk-around character. It is to the filmmakers’ credit, however, that the characters are so magnificently rendered. Robin Hood, the Sherriff of Nottingham, and to a lesser extent Friar Tuck and Prince John still frequently make appearances in the parks.

They never got an attraction or even so much as a popsicle stand, but the characters are still there.

The debonair Robin Hood, looking decidedly more double-chinned than I remember.

The debonair Robin Hood, looking decidedly more double-chinned than I remember.

Photo by Jeff Christiansen

#20 – The Aristocats

The last film in today’s segment. As the saying goes, in with a whimper, out with a …whimper. Aristocats is not a terrible film, but it is somewhat weak. There were a few different gift shops called The AristoCats at various Magic Kingdom-style parks at one time or another, but the move never had a major presence.

Until recently.

Somehow modern audiences have rediscovered the character of Marie, the feisty little white kitten who is basically a bit player in the movie. All of the kittens in the film are cute, but Marie has come out of nowhere and now her merchandise is everywhere. I blame the Japanese. You just know this started with them.

A lot of the Aristocats (including all three kittens and some of the weird cats from the Scat Cat band) have appeared at some point as walkaround characters, but Marie is the only one who appears regularly today.

She is often found on Town Square at the Magic Kingdom, and has been seen in France at Epcot as well, and at other parks worldwide.

Cross-eyed French kitten of the 70s!

Cross-eyed French kitten of the 70s!

Photo by Castles, Capes, and Clones

Summary

The 70s and 80s were not exactly Disney’s best time period for animation, though there are a few gems in there (Winnie the Pooh and Little Mermaid). Most of the stories are forgettable at best, and nearly unwatchable at worst. It’s no wonder most of these never panned out with major park tie-ins.

But some great films in the 50s and 60s are just around the corner…

 

The Complete Canonical List of the Best Animated Film Tie-Ins Ever – Part 1

Friday, November 7 will be a momentous day here at the Parkeology offices. You can probably guess why.

On that day, Big Hero 6 will be officially released into theaters, the 54th animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

There is perhaps nothing more synergistic than Disney animated features and theme parks. The parks are loaded with rides based on movies, restaurants based on movies, shops that sell merchandise from the movies, an entire attraction called “The Magic of Disney Animation” which is about the making of the movies. Without animation, there would be no Disneyland. Animation is the lifeblood of Disney parks. Animation and maybe also ice cream.

The 54 animated features are sort of like the 47 rides of Walt Disney World — something that can be methodically endured, conquered, and critiqued. Good, bad, all of the above — and in spite of all the classics, there is a surprising amount of bad on the list of 54.

For the first time in theme park history, somebody has decided to choose the absolute best park tie-in that ever existed for every animated feature. It’s something you didn’t even know you wanted, but now that it’s here, you will soon wonder how you ever lived without.

It’s going to take a few posts to get through all these. I will be going in descending order by release date. The older movies, by definition of them being older, have more options to choose from. So it will be more climactic to finish up with the original classics.

But first you have to suffer through…

#54 – Big Hero 6

Prepare to hug lifesize Baymax in a character greeting area heading to Disneyland! There’s also one heading to Hollywood Studios, but I give the edge to Disneyland, since it’s also repurposing the Captain EO theater into a preview theater. So there’s that.

See what I mean about anti-climactic? The movie isn’t even released yet! Until this movie becomes a mega-hit, we likely won’t see the closure of any classic Epcot dark rides so that we can get our own Big Hero 6 adventure. Speaking of which…

#53 – Frozen

You’ve sung the songs. You’ve worn the princess outfits. You’ve been labeled “the creepy cross-dressing man who sings show tunes.” Now it’s time to pick the best theme park tie-in to the biggest animated hit of all time.

Sure, we have that new Epcot E-ticket on the way, but that’s a few years off. Over in Hollywood Studios, they just ran an entire summer promotion centered around Frozen, complete with cardboard Olafs, an ice skating rink, and soap bubbles on Hollywood Boulevard. We also got that hastily thrown-together Frozen Sing-Along in the Premiere Theater, which turned out to be a surprisingly engaging experience (eat your heart out, American Idol).

But the best Frozen tie-in is already history. The Frozen Fireworks show used as part of the Summer of Frozen Fun had its last performance in September. Those songs! Those fireworks! That giant Sorcerer’s Hat backdrop! The show will be missed. The hat not so much.

54_frozen

Photo by SpreadTheMagic

#52 – Wreck-It Ralph

Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz had their own walk-around characters, but the coolest park tie-in for this genius video game tale came in the form of … a video game.

Fix-It Felix Junior arcade cabinets made appearances at Disneyland’s Starcade and Disney Quest, where you can still play them today.

54_wreckitralph

Photo by insidethemagic

#51 – Winnie the Pooh

Thank God for character greeting areas, or some of these movies would really be scraping the bottom of the barrel. Of course Winnie the Pooh is all over the place in theme parks. For awhile, he was bigger than the princesses. But tie-ins for this somewhat forgotten feature in the Pooh pantheon were limited to the character greeting spot at the Magic of Disney Animation (recently home to Wreck-It Ralph, with Baymax landing soon).

#50 – Tangled

Here we are five movies into the list and we’ve still yet to see a bonafide attraction, except maybe the Frozen fireworks. Tangled is not the movie to break that streak. But it is with a strange sense of delight that I get to put a restroom on the list.

Rapunzel’s Tower forms the backdrop to Fantasyland’s Tangled-themed pitstop area, complete with phone charging stations and a nice little “Where’s Waldo?” game with the chameleon.

54_tangled

Photo by Brett Kiger

#49 – The Princess and the Frog

Tiana and Naveen got themselves a thematically appropriate riverboat show in New Orleans Square — Princess Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee — which is the pinnacle of their park achievement. The show didn’t last very long, but like many things in Disneyland, it made great use of existing park landmarks. The characters still pop up for greetings here and there, but the song-and-dance show still takes the cake.

 #48 – Bolt

Oh, Bolt. You left us too soon. The movie wasn’t a failure, but Bolt is practically non-existent in the parks, other than as a plush toy at the Emporium. Could that possibly be the best tie-in from the movie? A stuffed animal?

No, I won’t allow out. Bolt’s biggest impact is on his card for Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, the interactive game in Florida. Bolt’s power (like in the movie) is his Super Bark. Hold that card high, Bolt fans. You’ve precious little else to cling to.

54_bolt

#47 – Meet the Robinsons

Yeah, this one is pretty much in the same boat. There are several park references in Meet the Robinsons, but not many Meet the Robinson references in the parks. I’m going to fall back on the old stand-by: The character greeting area.

This honor goes to Bowler Hat Guy, who by now is actually a very rare character. He’s usually only out for special events like Marathons or Overnight Villain Parties.

54_meettherobinsons

Photo by Castles, Capes & Clones

#46 – Chicken Little

Screw it. I refuse to pick the short-lived walk-around Chicken Little and Abby Mallard characters, who like Bowler Hat Guy are special events only, nowadays. I don’t even like Chicken Little the movie.

It says something when the best park tie-in for the movie is the movie’s own promotional billboard. And that’s what I’m going with. They painted the side of the Playhouse Disney soundstage in Hollywood Studios to be a bright blue sky, and then painted a hexagonal tile that had fallen from it. A promotional mural. That’s the best you can do, Chicken Little.

54_chickenlittle

#45 – Home on the Range

Shoot me now. The movies are getting dreadful, and the park tie-ins are getting worse. The best tie-ins to date have been a fireworks show and a character show. And this flick about three cows (one of whom is Roseanne Barr) is not likely to blaze any trails.

Judy Dench voiced another one of the cows. Can I call her Spaceship Earth narration a tie-in? Jennifer Tilly (the third cow) played Madame Leota in the Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion movie. Can I use that?

Okay, fine. I guess I will have to go with the Little Patch of Heaven makeover that Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch received around the time the movie was out. I think it had cows. Because theming.

54_homeontherange

Photo by Castle, Capes & Clones

#44 – Brother Bear

Brother Bear came out in 2003. Disney — who loves any story where someone turns into a bear to hilarious effect — figured they had a probable massive hit on their hands and promptly rethemed their Redwood Creek playground area of California Adventure into the Magic of Brother Bear, complete with totems, character greetings, and an amphitheater show.

Children everywhere rejoiced and quickly made it the most popular playground in that section of the San Francisco area of a forgotten theme park.

In 2009, Disney rethemed this playground around the Pixar movie Up, which is about a 70-year old man.

If that’s not the definition of a successful theme park tie-in, I don’t know what is.

54_brotherbear

Photo by Castles, Capes & Clones

#43 – Treasure Planet

I’m going to be honest with you. This is the first one where I could literally think of nothing. I had to google, and even still, all I could turn up was a walk-around B.E.N. character in Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris. Kind of sad, since this movie is way better than Home on the Range and Brother Bear.

54_treasureplanet

Photo by Loren Javier

#42 – Lilo & Stitch

Finally! This is the first movie on our list with some real attractions to choose from! I know you are extremely excited. Let me temper your enthusiasm by reminding you that the two attractions in question are Stitch’s Great Escape in the Magic Kingdom and the Stitch version of Turtle Talk in Hong Kong Disneyland.

I’m going to give it to Stitch’s Great Escape, since the animatronic is cool. But I do so under protest, since Stitch’s Great Escape is possibly the worst attraction in the entire Magic Kingdom.

54_liloandstitch

Photo by Express Monorail

#41 – Atlantis: The Lost Empire

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, your submarine passed through the lost city of Atlantis, whose tottering columns betrayed the hand of man. It was awesome.

Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with the animated feature.

I don’t know. I kind of hate this movie. So out of spite, the best park tribute is an article done by a wonderful website called parkeology. Which delightfully shows nothing remaining of Atlantis. Which is how it should be.

#40 – The Emperor’s New Groove

We end this first batch of movies not with a bang, but a whimper. Scraping the bottom of the barrel for yet another foam-head. This time, it’s everyone’s favorite mimbo, who had his own meet-and-greet outside the Animation building at Disney’s California Adventure.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Kronk. The Eighth Wonder of the World.

54_emperors_new_groove

Photo by ste3ve

Part 1 Summary

So yeah, you can’t wait for the rest of these, right? I mean, we covered 14 movies and the biggest full-fledged attraction we had to offer was the reviled replacement for Alien Encounter. In the process, we got rethemed playgrounds, petting zoos, a fireworks show, a trading card, a restroom, a billboard, seasonal entertainment, a video game, and 5 character greeting areas. This is scintillating stuff.

Is it any wonder Disney gets a bad rap for failing to capitalize on its recent movies?

In the next round, we’ll turn the page back to the 1990s. I guarantee you’ll remember some of those movies. The question is: Will you remember anything they spawned in the parks?

Stay tuned…

 

Ye come seekin’ adventure and salty pirates, eh?

This is it… after touring through nine of the biggest blunders in Disney theme park history we have finally arrived at the top of our list of the Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies. If you have not read them all click HERE to get caught up…

Keep a weather eye open, mates, and hold on tight if you please… there be squalls ahead and Davey Jones waiting for them what don’t obey…

1) PC Pirates

Pirates less rape poster

Yo,ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

 We torture we rape and we don’t fear the brig.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We treat women like slaves we’re misogynist pigs.

Drink up me ‘earties yo ho!

 

 Yo,ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

 We slit your throat and then we sing with glee.

Drink up me ‘earties yo ho.

We’re murdering terrorists and proud to be.

Drink up me ‘earties yo ho.

 

 Yo, ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

 We disembowel and we eviscerate.

Drink up me ‘eraties yo ho.

We like your women but not to date.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

 

We’re diseased and dirty, we’re oversexed studs.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

We wallow in feces and have a taste for blood.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

 

We’re wretched and drunk and may cut off your head.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

Aye, but we’ll also take your sisters to bed.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

 

 Yo, ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

 

Um wait a second… what exactly are we talking about here?

Pirates of the Caribbean has never been politically correct. It is impossible to imagine much of the atttractcion passing through Disney’s corporate filters today.

pirates-overall

Looting, arson, murder and rape… now lets get a churro.

Earlier on the list we took a look Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It carries guests on an intoxicated romp through city streets and includes multiple attempts at vehicular homicide and a trip to hell. As very “un-Disney” as that attraction may seem it has nothing on Pirates of the Caribbean, a ride that celebrates looting, rape, torture, sexual slavery, arson and more.

Yet Pirates of the Caribbean is widely considered to be Disney’s top ride and in fact the greatest theme park attraction ever created. You would be hard pressed to find any ride designer, theme park fan or Disney freak who would not put Pirates at the very top of their “best of” list.

Pirates-Concept-1

Some concept art was even less subtle that what made it into the attraction.

Think about it. Pirates of the Caribbean is nearly 50 years old and is still one of the top draws at every park is appears in. It created an entire genre of rides and was chiefly responsible for defining what we know as a “Disney style” attraction. It was created by legendary Imagineers and has even spawned a hugely successful series of films.

Pirates of the Caribbean opened in 1967 at Disneyland and immediately redefined what a theme park attraction could be. Moreover Pirates was the last attraction that Walt Disney personally supervised to the point of final design (though he did not live to actually see its completion). It is impossible to over-state the importance of this attraction regarding the history of the Walt Disney Company, modern theme park attractions or even themed experiences in general. Without Pirates there would be no Haunted Mansion. Without Pirates there would be no EPCOT Center. Without Pirates of the Caribbean there would be no Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Simply put: Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean is the absolute pinnacle of theme park design and the most significant attraction in Disney’s or any other theme park company’s history.

The attraction boasts lavish sets, memorable songs and amazing artistry, but also a rabid legion of fans that span multiple generations and cross all cultural lines. For a group of “really bad eggs” people flat out love these pirates.

Pooped-Pirate-Original

The original “Pooped Pirate”; sexual assault at gunpoint has never been so much fun.

With this in mind it can come as no surprise that fans were outraged and livid in 1997 when the Walt Disney Company announced imminent changes coming to the beloved attraction. What may have seemed amusingly naughty in the mid-sixties was feeling a bit more ominous 30 years later. The original incarnation of the ride clearly depicted swashbucklers chasing down women with a sexual intent. Pirates could be heard offering to share the “wenches” with guests and uttered other lewd and suggestive dialogue.

Upon examination the attraction is one illegal, illicit or morally reprehensible scene after another from start to finish. The town magistrate is tortured, the women of the town are rounded up and sold at auction and eventually the entire town is burned to the ground… Pirates were not nice guys.

Pirate-Chase-2

Pirates used to chase the ladies…

Though the ride depicted many wretched things it did so with a tongue-in-cheek approach than softened the hard edges and created an overall tone that was lighthearted and campy. Regardless, in the mid nineties there was a growing swell of complaints that the acts portrayed on the attraction were not appropriate for a family fun park. It could be argued that Disney was actually presenting a fair and accurate representation of Pirates rendered in a more palatable manner (ironically Disney is often accused of white-washing the realities of history). One could also be reminded that Pirates were outlaws and criminals and any attraction themed around them would need to include the acts that they were known for. Nonetheless park management decided it was time for a change.

Pirate-Chase-5

…but then they started chasing chicks.

Originally the pirates pursued attractive woman as they scurried away in a famous series of chase scenes. One heavy-set woman turned the tables and lustfully ran after a scrawny pirate. This scene, with an apparently sexually starved woman, was also seen as offensive; critics asked why it was only the heaviest woman who not only welcomed the Pirate’s amorous attentions but actively sought it out as well? And why was it that the only woman the pirates were not interested in happened to be the overweight one? Beyond concerns of weight discrimination critics lashed out about the general premise and the overtly sexual and abusive themes.

Pirate-Chase-1

From lustful desire…

Pirate-Chase-3

…to self protection.

The first changes gave the heavyset woman a rolling pin to brandish. She was no longer lustfully chasing down an unwilling pirate lover but now fending him off and protecting herself.

More changes came later in a rather ham-fisted attempt to remove the sexual overtones from the chase scenes. A 1997 overhaul (to the original Disneyland version) added food and drinks to the hands of the fleeing damsels in distress. Disney aimed to tell guests that the pirates were now hungry, not horny. The scoundrels were not chasing the women themselves but rather the delicious delights in their possession. Not content to leave the largest women alone they oddly upped the weight insensitive suggestions by having her now chase down a pirate who was carrying a hunk of ham. No longer was she trying to bed a bandit or even trying to chase him away, rather she was so ravished with her endless need to gorge herself that she just had to get her hands on that ham at all costs. The rest of the more slender women trotted along protecting dinner from the grubby hands of the invading riff-raff.

Ham-Pirate

Must Get HAM!!!!

A short bit later another scene originally depicted a drunken buccaneer known as the “Pooped Pirate”; exhausted from his encounter with an unwilling victim he rested against a wood barrel. Guests would hear his frustrated commentary as he held a piece of her undergarments and asked for our help in finding her. The terrified woman would occasionally reveal herself. Trembling with fear she hid in a barrel near the would-be rapist. This scene was altered so that the Pooped Pirate (now surrounded by a bounty of food) complains about hunger and how he is in search of a fine pork loin (you really can’t make this stuff up). For some unexplained reason a scared cat of all things replaced the poor woman in the barrel.

Pooped-Pirate-Rehab

He’s still pooped but now he is bloated and in search of a pork loin as well… doesn’t he see one sitting right next to him?

Similar changes were previously made at the Walt Disney World version of the ride. There the female victims carried treasure in lieu of food and while the terrified woman remained in the barrel she held a treasure map suggesting the pooped pirate was in search of gold and not a different kind of booty.

4562298-6292341-thumbnail

The original version… does adding some mugs on a tray really change the meaning?

Pirate-Chase-4

Just give the guy the freaking mugs already… it would make things a lot easier and he is really thirsty.

Other clearly controversial and misogynistic scenes remained largely untouched, most notably the auction scene depicting enslaved woman as they are sold to the highest bidder for the apparent pleasure of the drunken sailors nearby. The pirates are most enchanted with the busty redhead while a less conventionally attractive woman cowers with embarrassment (and perhaps concern that she will be chosen at all); another sobs with fear.

Red-Head

Are they suggesting sex crimes are OK if you are really hot?

Disney may have been taken aback by the very vocal complaints these changes garnished. It was not only the fans but also even some of the original designers (mostly old men by this time) who complained. Xavier “X” Atencio, the show’s writer and composer of its catchy song feared that the changes turned the pirates into “The Boy Scouts of the Caribbean”. The mainstream press picked up on the changes too and soon newscasts were filled with stories about Disney “caving” to pressure while others criticized the changes as either not going far enough or that no changes should have been made at all (Disney could not win for trying). It was unprecedented to have such a widespread outpouring of concern and anger (on both sides of the controversy) over alterations to a theme park attraction. Late night talk show hosts made jokes, radio shows discussed the various implications and Disney was caught in a media storm it surely did not expect.

Pirates-scared-girl

The undertones of scenes like this were probably lost on most riders.

Perhaps Disney should have simply left the attraction alone. As George Lucas also discovered around this same time; when a classic is altered, regardless of the intent behind it, those who grew up with said classic and those who have true love and admiration for it will never accept the changes. It is as if a piece of their childhood has been ripped away from them and tossed to the side. People fear that it is a slippery-slope leading to a bland homogenization of everything they once loved. Disney was placed in a very difficult situation; the critic’s points could not be denied but the fans love of the attraction knew no bounds. It is very unlikely that proponents enjoyed the ride because it suggested misogamy and in fact most who rode probably never really understood it that way to begin with, to them it was a silly spoof.

To be fair other more positive alterations were made to the Disneyland attraction at this same time. The recently closed World of Motion ride at Epcot made many audio animatronics figures available to be re-used. Marc Davis, the same Imagineer who designed the pirates and in the same exaggerated cartoon fashion, designed these figures. In fact many of the World of Motion figures were sculpts originally created for Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney’s designers tried to incorporate these animatronics into the attraction in order to better flesh out the story and enhance several scenes.

Wolrd-of-Motion-Pirate

Look Familiar?

motionviking

Six years later Disney released “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl”, a big screen action adventure movie with very loose ties back to the original attraction. The movie starred Johnny Depp and was a massive hit, so big in fact that Disney decided to alter the theme park attractions once again. This time the stated intent was not to sanitize the more lewd aspects pirate life but rather to inject elements of the film series into the attraction that inspired it. Nonetheless it gave Disney another crack the more suggestive parts of the ride.

In 2006 a new version of the attraction debuted. Disney decided to alter the chase scenes once again. Now in the Florida version two pirates inexplicably run in a circle each holding an end of a treasure chest. In Disneyland vignettes featured newly empowered women chasing pirates who have stolen pies (man those pirates really are nasty). No longer are the pirates trying to capture the women for sexual gratification, treasure or even to satisfy their hunger. Now the women are the aggressors hunting down the befuddled and inept seaman.

Pooped-Pirate-Current-2

Today Mr. Depp peeks at a map while the pooped pirate tries to beat him to the treasure. The entire plot of the ride has changed.

pirates47

Johnny, Johnny everywhere!

tumblr_m4l05wFXXB1rwfysro1_500

The pooped pirate remains but now Captain Jack Sparrow (from the films) peers from the same barrel that once hid the frightened girl. It appears as though Jack is looking over the treasure map the pooped pirate clutches. The plot of the attraction has been shifted, Pirates are now in search of Jack Sparrow and trying to beat him to the treasure, the town and its inhabitants are inconsequential. Additional figures of Captain Jack and his nemesis Captain Barbossa were added as well. Even music lifted from the movies found it’s way into the attraction. Most of the changes made in 1997 were removed including several of the World of Motion figures and the overall “Pirates are hungry” motif. Now the attraction that inspired the films had been consumed by them. Pirates of the Caribbean had been turned into a promotional synergistic corporate shill.

For thirty years Pirates of the Caribbean stood virtually untouched, then within a decade nearly every scene had been alltered in one way or another. Additional minor changes continue today (in order to insert more elements from the movies) with more inevitably to come as the film franchise marches on. Somehow through all of this the auction scene that in many ways is the most offensive of them all remains intact.

Wench-Auction

There are at least four offensive things in this image, can you spot them all?

Pirates of the Caribbean is still an awesome ride but it is a ride that now has a different tone, a different plot and a different intent from the original incarnation. It is not so much about whether it is a “good” or “bad” ride but rather about what happens when a truly beloved experience is altered (and many would argue unnecessarily so). Perhaps they had no choice? Perhaps times have changed? But Disney messed around with the crown jewel in their collection and because of that it earns the number one spot on our list.

Did we miss anything? Are you surprised? Do you agree or disagree?

Let us know and lets hope that there are precious few controversial surprises to come!