Imagine the Possibilities

Everyone has a favorite scene in Pirates of the Caribbean. For 95% of the theme park public, this scene is either Johnny Depp hiding in a barrel or Johnny Depp fondling a dressmaker mannequin. The remaining 5% have a modicum of good taste.

We know the classic iconography. The dog with the keys, the wench auction, Hurricane Lagoon. These are rightly revered for their artistry. But there is one scene that never fails to capture my attention, awakening my adventurous spirit.

It occurs at the very front of the ride in the Magic Kingdom. To my recollection, it does not occur at Disneyland, since it has a very different beginning. It is a small vignette that rates hardly a single mention on any of the fan sites, and yet I find it captivating.

Right after you board your boat, before you round the corner into the caverns, there is a scene off to the right. It depicts a ship at anchor, framed by the natural rock work of the loading area. The moon is high, the seas are calm, and all you hear is the quiet lapping of the waves.

Lanterns flicker aboard the shadowy vessel. The shoreline is dark and silent. There is something about that ship. Compared to the bombast and revelry of all the other pirates in the ride, this one is furtive and mysterious. It’s as if a rival company of buccaneers has decided to slip ashore unnoticed while their counterparts sack the town and get drunk on the local ale.

To what dark purpose to they set their hearts? Are they responsible for the treasure buried in the caves of the ride queue? What secret storyline do they occupy behind all the debauchery?

We’ll never know, but I’m fascinated by this single, solitary glimpse of their ship. I’ve never been able to photograph it, since the real scene is extremely dark, but it’s depicted here in one of Marc Davis’s concept pieces.

Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of Pirates, I encourage you to check out this piece by FoxxFur posted a month back, in case you missed it. It’s one of the best essays on theme parks as art that I’ve read in recent memory.

Comments (6)

  1. @Russ, gasp! Sacrilege! How do you not bow before the alter of Pirates??

    Btw, have you ever had a chance to experience the Disneyland version? As awesome as I think the WDW version is, the California version is nothing short of artistic mastery.

  2. @theelfqueen, I agree that the Walt footage is fantastic. There was a whole episode of the TV show called “From Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow,” and Walt gives away almost the entire ride.

  3. I must have missed that previous article, FoxxFur, and now am even more in love with Moonlight Bay than before. The emotional core of the scene is what always hooked me before, but all the details (the clouds passing in front of the moon, the miniature foil waves, etc.) are things that I have never even pondered before. Truly fascinating stuff.

  4. My kids love the ride, but I could pretty much do without it. I always laugh at the scene at the end with the dog and the sea battle is fun, but there isn’t a whole lot in the town that interests me.

    I did, however, at your suggestion look at the ceiling for the support columns and was able to spot a couple.

  5. Hey Shane;

    That scene is called “Moonlight Bay” and is unique to Walt Disney World. Like you, I think it’s one of the best things in any theme park. I’ve written about it here:
    http://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/2008/02/two-by-yale-gracey.html

    That scene, paired with the diminishing cave nearby from which pirate voices echo, are two of my greatest obsessions when I was little. I’ve since been inside the cave and seen the speaker sitting at the back of it, and also gone right up to the ship in Moonlight Bay and poked it, but nothing diminishes my appreciation for the brilliance and economy of these effects.

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