Welcome to those of you joining me from A Glass Slipper Vacation and those of you who have just hopped aboard. I am the 3rd stop on our Magical Blogorail
I’ve always been in love with the blank spaces on the map. You know, the areas at the far corners of old cartography filled with fanciful creatures and the warning “here there be monsters.” Those spaces represent the magic of the unknown, a place full of mystery and wonder waiting just beyond the next wave. We don’t have those blank spaces anymore; our maps are all neatly filled in with names and borders. But filling in the map doesn’t fill in our longing; we still want that adventure, that promise of excitement and freedom. We still long for the horizon with its eternal promise.
Walt Disney knew that back in 1958, when the rough sketches for the proposed New Orleans Square included a walk-through rogues gallery wax museum dedicated to pirate history. Pirates were not only a part of history, they were something more – a symbol of freedom and adventure that appealed to guests across generations. But that symbol, as imaginer Marc Davis quickly discovered, had far less to do with history than with art and cinema. Real pirates, he discovered, were harsh, violent men who “died of veneral disease that they got in various bawdy houses.” Not only did they seem out of place at Disneyland, they failed to live up to the swashbuckling adventure that captured his imagination and the imaginations of visitors. So Davis made a decision. He left behind True Life Adventures for the high seas of literature and imagination, and in doing so, he tapped into the thing that made Pirates of the Caribbean immortal – he tapped into adventure.
Pirates of the Caribbean was never intended to present a clear narrative. It did not follow the pattern of Fantasyland’s dark rides; unlike Peter Pan’s Flight or Snow White’s Adventures, there was no established “story” to be told. Instead, as current imaginer Jason Surrell puts it, “Imagineers were creating a series of loosely related tableaux that would transport guests to another time and place and give them an experience they couldn’t have anywhere else.” That loose organization allowed guests to connect with the ride on a different level. They were not merely voyeurs passing by a story; instead, they were in an environment, a part of a time and place that called to all their childhood dreams of freedom and adventure and left them whistling “A Pirate’s Life for Me.”
That understanding of the idea of pirates rather than their history created an iconic attraction that has spawned variants in every Disney park complex around the globe. The desire for adventure, not the violent and occasionally brutal realities of history, but the freedom and wonder beneath them spoke to a deep desire in guests, and they wholeheartedly invested in a fantasy world where the wild freedom of buccaneers was something to be laughed at rather than feared.
There was, and is, no doubt. Pirates of the Caribbean has stood the test of time as one of the great attractions of the Disney parks. But that didn’t make it a good bet for a movie.
In 1992 when screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio came up with the idea for a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, their pitch didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. The pirate movie was dead, and the adventure movie was passé. Most movie studios viewed pirates as either too brutal or too artificially romantic to sell to audiences. But Buena Vista Motion Pictures was crazy enough to take the pitch seriously in spite of all the odds stacked against the idea. And several billion box office dollars later, the Disney company is glad they did.
When Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl appeared on screens across the country in 2003, its success was far from guaranteed. Despite a recognizable-name cast, it was a swashbuckling pirate movie without any pretense to gritty realism or historical accuracy. Really? Did Disney think that they could apply the unrealistic attitudes of their animated films to a live action pirate movie?
No, actually, they didn’t, and therein lay the secret of Pirates of the Caribbean’s continued success. Film makers understood that they were not making a historical documentary, but neither were they making a film so concerned about being family friendly that it tripped over its own political correctness. They were making a movie about adventure, a movie that included undead pirates and true love, but a movie that was, in the end, about the love of a man for his ship.
The creators of the film version of Pirates of the Caribbean reached into the original attraction and seized upon the basic elements that made the attraction – and the literary pirates who had inspired it – immortal. It was fun.
Pirates of the Caribbean succeeded because in the end, it kept its compass firmly pointed toward adventure. It reminded audiences of the thrill of the unknown and the wild love of freedom that most of them had discarded along the path to adulthood. It gave moviegoers the same permission that Walt Disney’s theme parks offer – to believe that wonder and adventure are still out there, just waiting for us to discover them.
That siren’s call of adventure is what makes Pirates of the Caribbean a glorious pairing of attraction and film, a connection epitomized by Captain Jack Sparrow. Sparrow, for all his moral ambivalence retains an innocence that connects with audiences. As Johnny Depp says, “No matter how bad things get, there was always this sort of bizarre optimism about [Sparrow]. I always thought there was something beautiful and poignant about his objective. All he wants is to get his ship back, which represents nothing more than pure freedom to him.”
That passion for freedom is something that has always called to us. From the familiar strains of X Atencio’s attraction theme song to the rich sound of Zimmer’s score, Pirates of the Caribbean reminds us of what it means to believe in freedom, beyond the safely labeled map of our daily life. It reminds us of what adventure really means, and it inspires us to look toward the edges of our own clearly defined world and say to ourselves “bring me that horizon.”
Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is Focused on the Magic.
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Loop should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:
1st Stop ~ Disney on Wheels
2nd Stop ~ A Glass Slipper Vacation
3rd Stop ~ Your Highway in the Sky
4th Stop ~ Focused on the Magic
Final Stop ~ Reviews and Reflections