Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"A Pirates Life for Me!"

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland is so well known and enjoyed by the millions who have adventured through its caverns that its almost impossible to even imagine the park without it. The fact is that the pirates didn’t hoist their sails or stow their gear until eleven years after Disneyland opened it’s gates and lowered the castle drawbridge.

Marty Sklar, Disney Legend and former Principle Creative Exec at Walt Disney Imagineering admitted that it had originally been planned as a fairly modest walk through with wax figures donning the pirate garb. However when the popularity of the Disney projects at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair proved many of the new innovations his team had pioneered, Walt scrapped the old concept in favor of something much grander in scale. 

Marc Davis and Walt share a laugh
You landlubbers might be surprised to learn that the success of the boat vehicles of It’s a Small World at the fair directly affected the Pirates ride and became the transportation method of choice. it was a way of directing the guests towards each tableau and keeping things running on a time schedule so they could move guests through without prodding.

Yale tides up a Pirate
Another Fair attraction that influenced Pirates was the audioanimatronic magic of Great Moments with Mr. Linclon. When it was decided to scrap the wax figure idea in favor of the emerging field of animatronics, a few of the Imagineers wanted to lean towards a more caricatures and cartoony look. Walt immediately vetoed that suggestion and told them to go for the more natural appearance of Lincoln for an example. “It’s all about breathing life into these characters”, he explained to his team.

Francis Xavier Atencio, or "X" as we call him,  wrote the legendary lyrics with music by George Bruns that became a theme song for the attraction, "A Pirates Life for Me!" You also might recognize X's voice as the talking skull that greets the guests before the plumes down their first waterfall which he also penned.
Imagineer Yale Gracey (and former Donald Duck unit head of Layout under director Jack Hannah). Yale created the astounding effect for the fire sequence. It was so realistic the Anaheim Fire Department was hesitant to approve it fearing the guests would panic at the frightening sight. Marty Sklar recalls with a laugh, “We had to convince them it wasn’t real.”

Claude Coats "Onsite Art Director"
Another spooky tidbit  for you Pirates fans. Did you know that Walt and the Imagineers were disappointed with the skeleton characters that were originally set to be installed in the attraction? In his book Pirates of the Caribbean:From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, Disney Producer Jason Surrell elaborated on the tale. They were so upset that the faux skeletons were , "just too unconvincing" that they contacted UCLA Medical Center to "borrow" some boney bodies from the anatomy Department. Over the years as sculpting and casting methods improved most of the real skeletons were replaced by the newly cast ones.
"Skull"-duggery on display

However there are still reported to be a few of the real variety "skull"-king around the ride. Of the many reports they seem to be whittled down to these: two skulls on the sand bar after the second waterfall and a skull and crossbones adorning the headboard of a bed. They are darker and more realistically aged than the other skulls. The main evidence cited is the extra details inside the skulls and around the nose not to mention the very teeth themselves.

ARRGGH, and yes maties,  political correctness creeped in to the Pirates attraction as it has into so many creative crevices in our country. In the 1990's some bitterly lonely folks berated the company for having those dastardly pirates chasing wenches, er... I mean women. So the company buckled and turned the tables with women chasing the poor pirates. So I guess stealing loot, attempted murder, drunk and disorderly and wide scale arson are OK but don't you dare chase the fair ladies! Lucky for Walt the political correctness police hadn't corrupted an innocent and entertaining expression of historically hilarious fun back in his day. X Atencio heard about these ridiculous changes and now refers to the ride as "Boy Scouts of the Caribbean."

I was very fortunate to know and in some case work with many of the key Imagineers that created the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. These include Marc Davis, (wife) Alice Davis, Claude Coats, Herbie Ryman, X Atencio, Yale Gracey and others so writing this post has been a combination of happy nostalgia mixed with sadness that except for Alice they are gone, but a realization that I was fortunate to at least have had them for friends.

So here we are, 50 years later. I was asked to do a tribute piece for the attraction that was in the same vein of my Haunted Mansion piece that earlier celebrated its anniversary. So I created a “sister” piece that is in the retro styling I seem to be somewhat known for in some circles. The tough part for me was attempting to narrow down so many wonderful experiences from the ride into a smaller number that could fit on one poster. I knew I wanted to use a warm theme after all, there’s always some drunken pirate yelling out  “we wants the redhead”. I kept the guests in a cocoon of cool colors to keep them separate from the world of pirate make believe. I hope ye like it ya bloomin cockroach and if yer ship docks at D23, pick one up for yer booty an' stop by me station and I'll be a happy to sign it, arrgghh!

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I was so hoping to see you at the D23 expo but was stuck in a line during your signing! Will the 50 year posters be available at the park this year?