Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean: 50 years of change

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland is evolving.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

For the last 50 years — and counting — Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean “dark ride” has provided a unique pop-cultural guidebook on the how-to’s of staying relevant, most recently at the end of June when Disney Parks announced plans to rework one of the attraction’s most controversial scenes, the “Bride Auction.” While the modification has generated considerable attention from proponents and critics alike, it is certainly not the first of its kind. More than any other single attraction, “Pirates” has evolved with the cultural — and pop cultural — zeitgeist, beginning even before its debut.

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From museum to boat ride

Originally envisioned as a subterranean, walk-through wax museum (an idea that had been tossed back and forth between Walt Disney and the park’s Imagineers since the late ’50s), Pirates became a water-based “dark ride” after the unprecedented success of of It’s a Small World’s at the 1964 World’s Fair — the arena in which Walt Disney polished his audio-animatronic design.

Pirates of the Caribbean opened March 18, 1967, just three months after Walt Disney’s death and was the last Disneyland attraction in which the mastermind himself participated.

Tucked into the dimly lit underbelly of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, the signature attraction takes guests on a voyage back in time to witness bloodthirsty pirates pillaging the Spanish Main.

Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)


Handsy pirates clean up their act

The semi-humorous marauding proceeded unchanged until the mid-’90s, when park visitors began calling out the attraction’s marked displays of misogyny — a horde of rowdy pirates chasing a group of women through a ravaged town, a lustful buccaneer in search of a woman hidden, and clearly frightened, in a barrel nearby. Both scenes were altered to shift the target of the men’s desires: food rather than women.

A view of the Pirates of the Carribean attraction at Disneyland. (Dean Conger / Corbis via Getty Images)
(Dean Conger / Corbis via Getty Images)


The Hollywood revamp

Unlike many Disney park attractions, Pirates was not based on a film, so, in 2003, Disney based a film on the ride. Following the “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” the first leg of what would become a full-fledged franchise, several of the film’s leading characters were incorporated into the Disneyland attraction.

Carefully timed to coincide with the premiere of the second “Pirates” installment, three of the film’s frontmen —Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) — were memorialized as audio-animatronic versions of their on-screen characters.

An artist's rendering of Jack Sparrow in the Pirates attraction. (Disney Enterprises)
(Handout / Disney Enterprises)


Women are off the market — for good

According to Disney’s projected model for an updated “Auction” sequence, the 2018 modifications are slated to flip the script entirely. In addition to replacing its current overhead banner — which reads “Auction: Take a wench for a bride” —with one that says “Surrender yer loot,” the ride will also reposition one of the women (a red-haired character currently displayed as the auction’s ultimate prize; she is accompanied by a voice-over that shouts “We wants the read-head!”).

Disney plans to remodel her so that she remains the scene’s focal point — only now as one of the commanding, rifle-slinging pirates.

An artist's rendering of the scene that will replace the bride auction on Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. (Walt Disney Co.)
(Walt Disney Co.)



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