Tom and the pirate

FOR 130 YEARS, TOM SAWYER has been among the best-known characters in American literature. For 50 of those years, he’s also had his very own island at Disneyland, one of the few attractions there designed by Walt Disney himself. But he can’t match the movie-star appeal of a rubber-spined pirate named Jack Sparrow.

Disney officials are reportedly considering a makeover for Tom Sawyer Island, which has been part of Disneyland almost since its opening in 1955. The website, which is devoted to Disney news, quotes insiders as saying the park may spend $28 million to turn the attraction into a pirate-themed island in time for the third installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series. Disney officials neither confirm nor deny the rumors.

For what’s it’s worth, we hope it isn’t so -- and not just because we’re nostalgic about the hordes of make-believe invaders we repelled at Ft. Wilderness, or the furtive teenage makeout sessions we had in the dark recesses of Injun Joe’s Cave. Change is OK, even if it means our kids will have different memories than we do of the Magic Kingdom. Disney is wise to update some of its attractions to make them more fun and relevant for today’s children.

Further, though the rumors have sparked a considerable outcry on the Internet, it’s unlikely that the Imagineers would be foolish enough to change the main things that make Tom Sawyer Island a kind of oasis. The island is one of the few places in the park dedicated solely to imagination and play, rather than turning kids into passive spectators or strapped-in coasternauts. Take a quiet raft ride to the island and the energy changes from manic to manageable, from wild to mild.

What they might change is the overall theme, and that’s a shame. It is undoubtedly true that most kids who take the Becky Thatcher raft to the island have never heard of its namesake, that Tom’s Landing might as well be called Knot’s Landing for all the rise it gets out of the youngsters, and that the name Injun Joe conjures no nightmares for those raised on DVDs. But there will always be kids whose curiosity is sparked by all these unknown references. They might even be interested enough to put down the remote and crack open a book.


After all, not every beloved literary trickster wears mascara and drinks rum. One plays hooky and talks other kids into painting white picket fences -- and he has stood the test of time far better than this summer’s top box-office attraction will.