Amazing Facts About Pirates of the Caribbean
Only a few theme park rides ever attain true name recognition status. These attractions are the ones that even non-Disney guests know by name and reputation. One of the most famous examples is Pirates of the Caribbean, which admittedly received a boost when the movie franchise began. Still, it had already attained rare pop culture status long before then. Here are a few amazing facts about Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the most iconic theme park attractions ever built.
Uncle Walt’s Last Attraction
I sometimes play fast and loose with the description of which theme park attraction was the last one that Walt Disney ever had a hand in creating. I do so because several answers share a kernel of truth. Space Mountain wouldn’t arrive until the 1970s, long after Uncle Walt’s death, but he and his team of Imagineers worked on it. Similarly, The Haunted Mansion wouldn’t debut until 1969, three years after he passed, but his fingerprints are all over the preparations.
Acknowledging the messy nature of the discussion, there’s one real answer to the trivia question, “Which attraction was the last one Walt Disney worked on?” The answer is obviously Pirates of the Caribbean, which Uncle Walt labored to complete prior to his death. Tragically, he missed by only three months.
Disney was so dedicated to the cause of finishing Pirates of the Caribbean that he wouldn’t let a small inconvenience like lung cancer get in his way. He asked his team of Imagineers to build a harness that would carry him through the ride path. It even bounced him around the same way that the boats would rock passengers on the attraction. Even though he wasn’t there for opening day of Pirates of the Caribbean, nobody had a better idea of the ride than him thanks to those harnesses…and his tremendous willpower.
Almost a Museum
Pirates of the Caribbean shares another commonality with Haunted Mansion. Both of these attractions narrowly avoided becoming museums. With Haunted Mansion, park planners toyed with the notion of Museum of the Weird. Disney liked the idea enough that it moved beyond the exploratory phase before everyone reconsidered.
Imagineers kicked around the same idea for Pirates of the Caribbean. This iteration of the attraction was a wax museum, a place where Disney employees would create caricatures of the most famous bad guys in all of history. During this phase of the blue sky process, nobody had settled on pirates as the only theme yet. Instead, the museum was more open-ended in concept. After a time, everyone understood that pirates had the most appeal, and so Imagineers honed in on this premise at the exclusion of other villains through time.
Oddly, the tipping point was the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Disney had so much success with their attractions there that they realized a museum wasn’t interactive enough. They wanted their set pieces to feel more lifelike. Pirates of the Caribbean combines storytelling elements from Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln with the experiential nature of Ford’s Magic Skyway. They also borrowed some of the throughput concepts from It’s a Small World.
Once you’re aware of the mimicry, you can draw a straight line from Disney’s World’s Fair pavilions to the ride design of Pirates of the Caribbean. Had Disney struggled at the World’s Fair, everyone might know the attraction as a Madame Tussauds knockoff museum.
The High Cost of New Orleans Square
At Disneyland, New Orleans Square represented the most important expansion in the park’s history. Disney planned to add two major attractions to their new themed land. Once again, Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean have a shared connection. They were the projected rides at New Orleans Square. There were only two problems.
Disney needed more than a decade to settle on the final premise of Haunted Mansion. The constant bickering over whether the attraction should tilt toward humor or horror kept it from completion. That was the first problem. The second one was financial in nature. Whenever Disney builds new theme parks or lands, they tend to run into financial problems. Budget overruns are a recurring issue, and New Orleans Square was no exception.
You’ll see some articles indicating that Disney spent $15 million, which a proud New Orleans newspaper reporter noticed was almost exactly the same amount as the Louisiana Purchase. It’s the equivalent of $120 million in 2018 dollars. Out of the money, more than half went toward the construction of Pirates of the Caribbean, making it one of the most expensive theme park attractions of its era.
Building the ride cost roughly $64 million in 2018 dollars. Since the attraction hoarded more than half of the entire budget for New Orleans Square, Haunted Mansion had to wait for three more years before Disney could afford to complete it.
Special Effects That Were Too Realistic
We take a lot for granted when it comes to Disney attractions. They’re so significant in pop culture that everyone knows and accepts them at face value. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, however, Disney was doing things that had literally never been done before. And their creativity caused odd inconveniences at times.
For example, have you ever thought about the fire effects in Pirates of the Caribbean? One of the scenes is the Burning Town, a place where pirates have pillaged and plundered the local landscape. You may think that it’s cute and maybe even a bit kitschy today. In 1967, however, it was problematic.
No less than the Anaheim Fire Chief at the time requested something unusual of Imagineers. He requested that this set automatically shut down the lights in the event of fire. Otherwise, the Fire Chief couldn’t be sure of what would happen next. He sincerely worried that firefighters couldn’t tell the difference between the real fire and the artificial Disney construct. Disney’s special effects were that far ahead of the curve during the glory days of Disneyland!
The Ride Was Once PG-13 Bordering on R
You’ve probably heard that Pirates of the Caribbean has altered the Redhead scene. What you may not know is that this is far from the first time that Disney has modified the ride. To the contrary, they’ve made a couple of changes over the years that were so dramatic that even the Imagineers vented about them.
The most famous example is the Pooped Pirate, the exhausted glutton who lives life to the fullest…and then some. Well, he was originally quite a bit bawdier by nature. In the earliest days of Pirates of the Caribbean, this cad held the bodice of a comely woman. She had NOT given it to him willingly. As she huddled in terror, the Pooped Pirate lewdly described acts that he intended for the two of them to do together. Over time, Disney came to realize that this wasn’t the best choice for a family theme park, causing X. Atencio to dismiss the updated, family-friendly version as Boy Scouts of the Caribbean.
This change wasn’t the only one, either. You know the wench with the rolling pin who stands menacing, threatening would-be pursuers from invading her personal space? Yeah, she didn’t always have that rolling pin. At first, the women in that scene had no way to defend themselves. Disney listened to the feedback from guests who pointed out that it was kind of molest-y, a no-no for Disneyland.
In other words, everything that’s happening now with Pirates of the Caribbean has happened multiple times before. This ride has always skirted that fine line between comically over the top and, well, quite a bit over the line. No matter how Atencio felt about the subject, Boy Scouts of the Caribbean is the safer call for this signature Disney attraction.
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