Streetmosphere Pirates Dig For Treasure In Their Noses

It happened during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. A week when the parks are so crowded, you have to wait in line just to scoff at the latest DVC sales booth.

I’m pretty sure this was an “Apocalyptic Crowds Season” deal, and that this will not become a regular occurrence in Adventureland.

But for a brief time, on one glorious afternoon, the entirety of Caribbean Plaza was infested with pirates.

Pirates in Adventureland

Normally when it comes to Streetmosphere, I’m a fan of the less-is-more approach.

Streetmosphere too often acts as the artificial sweetener for tasty three-dimensional placemaking. You’re at the mercy of someone with a theater degree — sometimes a perilous proposition.

pirates_safety

As opposed to being at the mercy of someone with a law degree, who always makes theme parks more fun. Photo courtesy of Castles, Capes & Clones

It’s not that the performers aren’t talented (most are), and it’s not that they rely too much on zany I Love Lucy accents (far too many do). It’s that these unscripted encounter are taking place amid throngs of sweaty tourists, who in that particular setting are all too aware that the whole thing is fake.

Streetmosphere works best when it stays in the background. A perfect example is DeVine at Animal Kingdom, whose whole gig consists of remaining motionless so that guests won’t discover that a leafy space creature is planning to dine on their children when they turn their backs.

Front-and-center acts like the Dapper Dans blend in, because barber shop quartets were an actual thing. But snooty Hollywood Starlet Greta Glamourpuss is just somebody’s workshop character of the week.

And when is the Mayor finally going to stop glad-handing and do something about Main Street's terrible homeless problem?

And when is the Mayor finally going to stop glad-handing and do something about Main Street’s terrible homeless problem? Photo courtesy of Castles, Capes & Clones

And while we’re at it, a bunch of drumming janitors make as much sense in Future World as roving bands of stockbrokers in Dinoland.

But pirates are perfect for Adventureland.

On the surface, this is exactly the sort of cash-grab synergy you’d expect from Disney. They already have a pirate version of the Jedi Training Academy set up there, clogging up the Adventureland arteries like a brisket burger from Electric Umbrella.

Why not up the pirate quotient and turn this area into an everyday re-enactment of every single Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party I’ve ever been to?

But here’s the great thing about these pirates. They weren’t doing Johnny Depp impersonations or bandying about cliche pirate phrases. You know what they were doing? I’ll tell you what they were doing.

Nothing.

Pirates Who Don't Do Anything

Like this, only less nutritious.

They sat for long periods on random barrels and planters, snoozing under their hats or draped over branches. Every single one of them looked hung over from whatever fort-sacking they had completed the night before. If there had been a patch of muddy pigs, one would have been snoring in there with them.

Pirates at Tortuga Tavern

People would pose for pictures with them and they barely blinked. It was done with such understated laziness that they truly did blend into the background. The hundreds of people moving past the ride on their way to Splash Mountain or Big Thunder seemed hardly to notice them. It was a rare glimpse of pirates in their natural habitat. And every now and then you would spot another one — just as lazy as the last.

And yes, some even pillage their nostrils for a few gold doubloons.

Pirate Picking His Nose

You might think I’m making fun of this guy, but I’m not. This was absolutely hilarious and intentional on his part.

These pirates truly did not give a rip what the tourists were doing. They had to rest up for another night of marauding, embezzling, and even hijacking.

The scene just kept getting better. At one point, an English naval officer, who might as well have been Commodore Norrington, wandered through the scene, accompanied by two red-coated guards. This character was more likely to interact with the guests, but with disinterested courtesy, as if he always had one eye on the various rascals, scoundrels, villains and knaves lounging in the courtyard.

Pirate in a Tree

That beard is not “Disney Look”

Eventually Captain Barbossa himself showed up, searching for Jack Sparrow. This act played as more traditional Streetmosphere, but in reality was just an extended lead-in to the normal Jack Sparrow Trials of the Pirate Temple show that plays several times daily.

Pirate on the balcony

I call this fellow a “balconeer.” Get it??

The whole effect was fantastic and struck exactly the right note. One can imagine too many dim-witted guests complaining to City Hall that the drunken pirate wouldn’t sign his autograph book, but I hope the reaction is positive enough that Disney keeps this idea going, even if it is only seasonal.

Also, if you can’t get enough entertaining reading about pirates, you should totally check out my book, Johnny Shipwreck. It’s available for a limited time discount on Amazon right now, and it’s awesome.

Johnny Shipwreck Book Cover

5 Times Ben Franklin Made Me Want to Punch Him

Ben Franklin is an unrepentant theme park windbag and he deserves to have his butt kicked.

I’m not going to focus on the petty stuff, because that is beneath me. If you want to wear your stringy dishwater hair like a half-bald Michael Bolton, more power to you.

Nor will I pick on his frilly-suit/white-socks ensemble. Wear whatever feels comfortable, even if it makes you look like a blue turd suiting up to play for the ’75 Lakers.

Instead, here are 5 very specific episodes from Ben Franklin’s theme park repertoire that make me want to wipe that smug, jowly grin right off his polished wooden teeth with one good punch.

Surely I’m not alone in this.

#1 – Ben Franklin is a Credit Hog

Ben Franklin gets credit for inventing everything from Electricity to Democracy. I’m pretty sure God invented the former, the Jedi invented the latter, and the only thing Ben Franklin actually invented is the pen-name Silence Dogood, as a way of writing anonymous snarky commentaries about famous people.

What a tool.

Ben Franklin’s gift for glomming onto every little success and claiming it as his own extends even to theme parks. For years, EPCOT Center boasted about how Ben Franklin was the first Audio-Animatronic figure to walk, when he climbs a flight of stairs to visit Thomas Jefferson in The American Adventure.

Ben Franklin Climbs the Steps

This is all fine and good, except that Ben is clearly attached to the wall like the world’s most ridiculous stair chair, with maybe one mechanical peg leg to keep him balanced.

This is like me claiming to be the first Animatronic to cook stir-fry by holding an empty wok and making sizzling sounds.

Sorry, Ben. You lose to a freaking dinosaur.

Sorry, Ben. You lose to a freaking dinosaur.

And does Ben show any shame at this mockery of technological achievement? No, instead he berates Thomas Jefferson for being tired — this after acknowledging that he slept through the entire afternoon session of Congress.

Oh, sure, Ben did eventually walk in a theme park. But only because they hired an actual human to do it for him.

#2 – Ben Franklin Shakes Hands Like a SeaWorld Otter

Mark Twain, as we know, is a man’s man. Mark Twain worked on steamboats for a living. Mark Twain grew a burly mustache. When Mark Twain needed a pen name, he didn’t invent some middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood as his alter ego.

Mark Twain smoked cigars and let his work speak for itself. Mark Twain wore all white, like a good cowboy or John Travolta. If Mark Twain was a hugger, he’d give you a bro hug.

Ben Franklin is not a hugger. Ben Franklin is a limp noodle.

When the two shake hands at the end of The American Adventure, Ben can’t even touch him. He just sort of flops his hand around like a dying river trout. It’s like one of those movies where the silly aliens don’t know you are trying to give them a fist bump. Mark Twain just lets him flail around, cocking one eyebrow and blowing smoke in Franklin’s face as a test of manliness.

Franklin fails miserably.

Ben Franklin and Mark Twain Shake Hands

On the bright side, maybe Ben is now the first Animatronic to turn purple and cough delicately like a middle-aged widow.

Just grab the man’s hand and give it a firm shake, Ben. It’s not hard to grasp (no pun intended). Especially for a mental giant who had the brilliant foresight to fly a metal kite in a thunderstorm.

Maybe he could learn a thing or two from his own insignia for the Philadelphia Contributionship over in Liberty Square (fire insurance – another thing he “invented.”)

#3 – Ben Franklin Hawks All Over His Lines

Why Ben Franklin gets any screen time in something called The Hall of Presidents is beyond me. The only thing Ben Franklin was ever president of was The Ben Franklin Fan Club.

But for some reason, past incarnations of the attraction found Ben Franklin “inspiring” his feeble-minded countrymen (also known as “Future Actual Presidents”) with phlegmatic speeches about the importance of what they’re doing.

And here I’m using phlegmatic in its “disgusting mucus throat coating” meaning, not “self-possessed and calm,” which the dictionary seems to think is correct.

Franklin’s speech can be heard at 2:18 in the following video.

When he says “infallibility,” it sounds to me like he should be shaking his jowls like Boss Nass.

Boss Nass

Yousa no tinkin yousa greatest inventor of all time?

Fortunately, this version of the show is no longer around. But the line reading has stuck with me, because nothing is so attractive as saying the word “infallibility” like you are about to blow snot all over 43 leaders of the free world.

Maybe he can invite them all over to the Ben Franklin Room at the Liberty Tree Tavern and regale them with more appetizing lung loogies over a nice turkey dinner. Don’t doubt the infallibility of this gravy, Washington, my good man.

I could go on about how he refers to the Declaration of Independence as an “instrument” instead of a “document,” but I suspect Ben Franklin is only trying to take credit for inventing marching bands.

#4 – Ben Franklin Brings Out the Worst Cosplayers

Warning to you internet-savvy readers: Do not google for “hot Ben Franklin.” There is no good to be found down that path. It will only lead to darkness.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped cosplayers from trotting out the turd-suit/Laker-socks uniform. They even do it in the parks.

The worst offender is Grandpa, at the Carousel of Progress.

Grandpa in Carousel of Progress

The sight of this poor old man — just a few stringy hair extensions away from mastering the art of the floppy handshake — is enough to break anyone’s heart.

#5 – I Hate Ben Franklin’s Stupid Self-Congratulating Jokes

Word to the wise: If you happen to find yourself in an austere patriotic theme park presentation, opposite one of the most gifted wits in literature, who is not only smoking a cigar on stage without lighting his mustache on fire, but also has provided enough one-liners to fill an entire Riverboat narration track — don’t fire off an ill-conceived joke about one of your tacky inventions.

Mark Twain says:

“We now face the danger, which in the past has been the most destructive to the humans: Success, plenty, comfort and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers.”

Ben Franklin, master of clever witticisms like pretending to be a middle-aged widow, fires back:

“I may have invented these bifocals I’m wearing, but I can assure they are not rose-colored!”

Wha…? I mean, huh? You invented… okay, you invented bifocals, I guess. And that’s important for us to know because–well, I guess because everything is about you, Ben.

I get it now. So clever.

I may not have invented the idea of silly food metaphors, but I can assure you that you are about to enjoy a tasty knuckle sandwich.

Man, I just hate that guy.

 

Two Amazing Theme Park Performances Hiding in Plain Sight

Most of us when we go to the movies are there to actually watch the movie.

I mean, I like cup holders and adolescent groping as much as the next guy. But if I’m going to spend the yearly wage of a Nike factory worker to sit in a darkened room for two hours, I want to watch Tom Cruise possibly fall to his death from a dumb plane stunt. Not the idiot in Row 5 texting his mother.

Same deal at the parks. When the lights go down and the butterfly curtain flaps away, our eyes are glued to the fantastic theme park performances on stage or screen.

Unless we’ve been there a hundred times.

We’ve written more tips than Cosmo about ways to spice up your ridemaking. But shows are trouble. Rather than an ever-changing three-dimensional vista of pillaging pirates, it’s often the same static bench in the same faux aquarium, listening to the same turtle factoids in the same phony Australian accent.

Turtle Talk With Crush

Cue the adolescent groping

That’s why it’s often easier to ride Haunted Mansion all day long than it is to see Beauty and the Beast Live On Stage twice in the same decade.

But what if I told you crazy fans that there are secret shows hidden in plain sight?

Great theme park performances that 99% of the audience never sees?

Animatronic actors pouring their entire soul into their role for nary a scrap of recognition?

I’m not talking an occasional unnoticed sight gag. These are full-length on-stage theme park performances that run non-stop throughout the day. These guys are emoting their hearts out, with more stage-time than the stars of the show.

And you never noticed them, you godless heathen.

To find them, you have to look in a place you never would have guessed.

You have to watch the audience.

It’s a surreal situation, like reading Moby Dick from the point of view of the whale. But if you have the fortitude, you can step through the looking glass and watch other characters watch the show.

The Country Bear Jamboree

You all know Blood on the Saddle, the Bear Band Serenade and the rest of the classic show. You can sing all the carols from the Christmas version and may even quote the skunk’s lines from Vacation Hoedown.

But do you know who gets the first lines and the last lines in the show?

Yeah. It’s that terrific troupe of talking taxidermy. Melvin, Max, and Buff.

Photo courtesy of Loren Javier under Creative Commons License

Photo courtesy of Loren Javier via Creative Commons License

And since they’ve got nowhere to hide, they have to watch the show. Again. And again. And again.

Which means while Henry is off adolescently groping Teddi Berra in the attic, Melvin, Max, and Buff are listening to the same corny numbers they’ve been hearing since 1971.

Sometimes they nod along in time to the music. Sometimes they roll their eyes. Sometimes they even whisper to each other. Oh, and Max hides a chuckle at the antics at multiple points in the show.

Try it next time. Try watching the entire Country Bears show while staring at the right wall.

Not only will you creep out everyone around you, but you’ll also see an entirely new Magic Kingdom show that you never knew existed.

Muppet Vision 3-D

MuppetVision 3-D is that rare exception to the rule, where the jokes come fast and furious and the sight gags are rewarding even on the tenth viewing.

But if you are one of those people whose gaze habitually gravitates to the fluffy chickens roaming through the Muppet Labs foyer at the beginning of the film, you’ve probably seen the movie enough times to try this.

And you don’t even need 3-D glasses.

Just like Melvin, Max, and Buff, Waldorf and Statler have minor roles in the main show. And just like in Country Bears, they get the opening and closing lines.

But for the most part, they are there to watch.

If anything, their theme park performance is even more fascinating than Melvin, Max, and Buff. Statler’s mouth is forever falling open in abject shock at the hijinks on display. Both of them spend so much time ducking and rattling from all the shenanigans, you’d think stuff really was flying off the screen.

In a brilliant instance of animated puppetry, Waldorf and Statler will actually turn to face the theater when Waldo, the Spirit of 3-D, flies in close – as if that zany creature was actually hovering over people’s heads.

Speaking of which, watch them bob their head with every bounce as Waldo plays pogo on top of the audience. Or wince in time with Beaker whenever the MuppetVision paddlewheel cracks him in the skull.

And sometimes they simply can’t help looking at each other in horror at what they are being subjected to.

It’s an entire show unto itself.

Conclusion

I was surprised at how engaging this is for a long-timer. It takes some discipline to remain focused on these peripheral theme park performances, when everything from the music stings to the lighting cues is geared to focus your attention on the stage.

It would be great if someone skilled at low-light videography would just set up a tripod and put the entire performance of Melvin, Max, Buff, Waldorf, and Statler up on youtube.

But until that happens, you’ll just have to go to the parks and try it yourself.

It really is like discovering a completely new show.