Home » Pirates of the Caribbean Today Barely Resembles The Ride it Used to Be

Pirates of the Caribbean Today Barely Resembles The Ride it Used to Be

“Better believe in ghost stories, Miss Turner. You’re in one!”

Geoffrey Rush uttered this iconic piece of film dialogue all the way back in 2003. While the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise may have grown stale, the remarkable thought involves the attraction that formed its basis. By that point, Pirates of the Caribbean the ride was already 36 years old!

Throughout its half-century in existence, Pirates of the Caribbean has undergone a score of changes. Some of them are drastic, while others are modest. Let’s take a look at the evolution of Pirates of the Caribbean through the years.

The museum that nearly anchored New Orleans Square

Even before it began, Pirates of the Caribbean underwent hallmark change. Walt Disney had intended a pirate-based exhibit to become a part of the first expansion at Disneyland. He didn’t visualize this section as a ride or something that would have a standalone story, though.

In the earliest days of the Happiest Place on Earth, Disney themed most attractions to their movie library. When they made exceptions, Uncle Walt and his team emphasized popular tourist attractions around the country. He aspired for Disneyland to become the one park filled with the best ideas of other appealing entertainment options. It was a kind of nesting doll approach.

Image: DisneyMuseums were extremely popular at the time, and Disney sought to capitalize on the craze by hosting at least one of their own. Oddly, both attractions that anchor New Orleans Square were originally up for consideration at museums.

In the case of Pirates of the Caribbean, Uncle Walt reconsidered the walkthrough Pirates attraction during the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The fervor over It’s a Small World, a simple boat ride, and the Audio-Animatronics (AAs) at multiple pavilions forced Disney to modify his plans.

Disney decided to turn the Pirates concept into a boat ride with AAs, also. Sadly, he wouldn’t quite live to see the fruits of his labor, though. He died only three months prior to the iconic attraction’s debut. 

The first version

Image: DisneyOne of the stated aims of Disney Imagineering is to plus attractions. They want to refresh their rides to maintain their appeal with modern theme park tourists. Despite this philosophy, some of the original Disneyland attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride have maintained their format since day one.

With Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney has employed a different strategy. It’s evolved mightily, but once the general format was established, the changes didn’t start for quite some time. That format, the dark ride through pirate-infested waters, is the one that you know today. After Uncle Walt chose to drop the museum, he went an entirely different way with the concept.

Because of the success of AAs at the World’s Fair, particularly Abraham Lincoln, he went all-in on the premise with Pirates of the Caribbean. It started with approximately 120 AAs. For comparison, the previous record for AAs used was…one.

Image: DisneyPark guests in 1967 marveled at the life-like qualities of the pirates on display on the attraction. One of the Imagineers, Blaine Gibson, struck gold with his philosophy. He understood that guests would only have a few seconds to appreciate each animated pirate, and so he built each one as slightly larger than life. They took on a cartoonish but memorable quality.

Imagineers did such a magnificent job in constructing lifelike sets that their quest for perfection caused unexpected problems. The city of Anaheim famously feared the realism of the burning set scene. The flames were artificial, but city officials believed that some visitors couldn’t tell the difference. That anecdote speaks to the immediate greatness of Pirates of the Carribean.

Thirty years later…

Image: DisneyObviously, the earliest version of Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t the least bit politically correct. This aspect would prove problematic for later generations. As the embodiment of family-friendly entertainment, Disney probably should have anticipated eventual criticisms of the ride.

By the mid-1990s, many people loudly wondered why Pirates of the Caribbean leaned so heavily into misogyny. In one indefensible example, a woman cowered in a barrel while a drunken pirate searched for potential recipients of his lustful feelings. Even 20 years before the #metoo era, the idea of playing sexual assault for comedic effect was in poor taste.

Disney chose this scene and another for modifications. The barrel change involves the famous Pooped Pirate. He’s sitting down because he’s so worn out after chasing the terrified woman. Disney fired these AAs and replaced them with the Gluttonous Pirate and a cat. The former gentleman loves food and is happily devouring a drumstick. The feline rather than the woman hides in the barrel, presumably to protect the giant piece of fish in his mouth.

Image: DisneyThe second set piece showcased pirates chasing unwilling women around town. It’s the infamous spinning circle chase sequence. Enterprising park executives changed it only slightly. They gave the women alcohol and food on trays. This alteration suggests that the pirates want to eat and drink rather than, *ahem*, pillage.

Just to show how much society has changed since 1997, these alterations were universally hailed as positives.  A similar decision two decades later triggered a Twitter flame war that lasted for months. The internet has made us fightier.

The arrival of a captain

The Geoffrey Rush quote at the start of the article wasn’t a random inclusion. It signifies the importance of the film franchise on the attraction. While the movies wouldn’t exist without Pirates of the Caribbean, the ride, Captain Jack Sparrow still had a profound impact on Disney theme parks.

Disney was somewhat caught off-guard by the success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Their first two attempts at film adaptations of park attractions, The Haunted Mansion and The Country Bears, were a modest performer and a total bomb. The Pirates franchise became such a stunning blockbuster that it once held the title of biggest opening weekend ever, the most illustrious of all box office records.

Given the popularity of the film franchise, park officials felt the onus to give Jack Sparrow a presence on the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride. He didn’t come alone, either. Davy Jones and Hector Barbossa were added during the same update back in 2006. Barbossa, in particular, is crucial to the updated version of the ride.

Image: DisneyOriginally, the pirate storyline was a bit nebulous. The buccaneers attacked the town for three simple reasons: loot, lust, and liquor. The post-movie change saw Barbossa pummeling the town with artillery to force Captain Jack out of hiding. 

Barbossa appeared on the ship in basic pirate garb during the initial update. Disney later changed his outfit to the privateer uniform you see today. Sparrow appears in the barrel, replacing the cat who previously replaced the frightened woman.

Jack also hides between some women in huge dresses. And his final appearance is the end sequence where our favorite nefarious pirate has pilfered the entire treasure room. This section of the ride is “new” in that it wasn’t a treasure room previously but rather a pirate hangout.

The presence of Davy Jones was audio at first. His voice narrated the post-treasure sequence. Then, Disney added a shimmering projection of the sailor’s devil at the start of the attraction. It employed many of the same elements, only the tentacle face of Davy Jones appears, too.

The latest outrage

Image: DisneyIn 2018, Disney again took steps to negate the misogyny on Pirates of the Caribbean. Despite their previous two alterations, one memorable exception still existed. The auction scene on the ride, while a crowd-pleaser for decades, embodied everything awful about pirate culture.

Disney chose to modernize the legendary pirate scene by taking out the slave trading aspect. Pirates no longer bid on women. Instead, they’re interested in valuable items like clocks. Yes, clocks are the new women at Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s kind of a weird change, but it’s undoubtedly a necessary and wise one.

Image: DisneyMore importantly, the latest plussing gave Disney a chance to upgrade a character. It’s no secret that the Pirates franchise has grown stale. Disney recently announced that Captain Jack Sparrow won’t be a part of the next film. It will focus on a new character instead. And that person is the Redhead, one of the most recognizable AAs from the attraction.

Since Disney knew that it intended to rebuild the movie franchise around her, park officials decided to elevate her ride presence. She goes from being property auctioned off in the signature scene to running the show as the auctioneer! It’s precisely the sort of female empowerment that Disney attractions should have, and it segues nicely to the upcoming movie release wherein the Redhead is the star. That’s some lovely synergy right there, Disney!

Then again, smart improvements and excellent decisions have been a staple of Pirates of the Caribbean almost since the beginning. That museum wouldn’t have stood the test of time, though.