Disney Might Let Pirates Swarm Tom Sawyer Island

Times Staff Writer

Are Tom and Huck being booted off the island?

That’s the buzz on websites devoted to Disneyland fans, some of whom were despairing after a report that Tom Sawyer Island might get the heave-ho and be replaced with a pirates playground.

Some company officials believe the 50-year-old attraction may be too dated for video-game-playing, Harry-Potter-reading kids, said Al Lutz, who first reported the possible changes on, a website devoted to Disney news.

“They had Tom and Huck whitewashing the fence ... and on the island interacting with the kids, but the kids were clueless,” Lutz said. “I guess in the schools now they don’t teach the books anymore.”


Lutz quoted his sources inside Disney as saying that the company might spend more than $28 million to make over the island in time for next year’s premiere of the third installment of the lucrative “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie trilogy.

Disney officials would not confirm any changes to the island.

“We don’t have anything to announce,” Disneyland spokesman Bob Tucker said. “We’ll let you know when we have some details -- if at all.”

But that didn’t stop hundreds of Disney fans from chiming in. Postings on the Internet ranged from the howling mad -- “ARE THEY INSANE??????” -- to those that said Tom Sawyer Island was in need of any refurbishment.

Many expressed mixed opinions. “Part of me (my traditionalist side) takes exception to the idea of Tom Sawyer Island being changed. But on the other hand, a pirate island would be REALLY COOL, and I’m sure I’d have loved it as a kid,” said one posting on Lutz’s site.

The island, surrounded by the Rivers of America, is one of the few attractions designed by park founder Walt Disney. Visitors can explore caves, cross a suspension bridge and encounter characters from Mark Twain’s classic American tale.

Disney was apparently so dissatisfied with the designers’ plans that he scrawled his own vision, which was largely adopted.

It also is the scene of Disneyland lore.

In the summer of 1970, more than 300 members of the counterculture Youth International Party who were protesting the Vietnam War stormed the park, prompting Disneyland to call out police in riot gear and shut its gates early. The long-haired protesters swarmed the island and hoisted the Viet Cong flag. Eighteen people were arrested.

For parents, the island has become a place where children can burn off excess energy by exploring the attraction. The only access to the island is by raft.

Over the years, the island has been kid-proofed and stripped of some of its charm. In 2001, a girl lost part of her finger when she caught it in a rifle trigger; after that, the gun turrets at Ft. Wilderness were removed.

For years, a dummy settler hit by an Indian arrow lay sprawled in front of a burning cabin. But in the 1970s, in the midst of the oil crisis, the flame was turned off for about a decade. In 1984, fake flames replaced the real ones, and the settler was replaced with a drunk moonshiner. The drunkard was later replaced with wildlife, a more family-friendly storyline.

Robert Niles, editor of who once worked as a raft guide at Walt Disney World’s Tom Sawyer Island, doesn’t want to see the attraction go. Neither do his kids, ages 6 and 9. His daughter, Niles said, is a voracious reader and loved the book.

“There are some bookworms out there, and I think there ought to be a place for them to play too,” Niles said. “And I’m concerned about pirate overload. I don’t want it to become the flavor of the month.”

Jamie O’Boyle, who studies pop culture at Philadelphia’s Cultural Studies and Analysis, a consumer research group, said pirates would be a strong draw.

“Twenty years from now, they may not remember who Jack Sparrow is, but they will still know what pirates are.”