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Neatorama Facts: Pirates of the Caribbean


Photo: Ack Ook [Flickr]

Yo ho ho and 66 animatronic pirates! The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is one of my favorite Disneyland rides. And apparently, I'm not alone in this: over 300 million people have gone on the ride since it opened in 1967. But did they know that the ride was originally supposed to be a walk through with wax figures? Or that it was Walt Disney's favorite project? Or that political correctness led Disney to change some of the raunchy scenes?

For today's Neatorama Facts, let's take a look at some of the neatest facts about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland:

The Pirates of the Caribbean was Walt Disney's favorite ride. Actually, whatever ride Walt is working on was his favorite - and since he died during the construction of the ride, it will remain his favorite forever.

Originally, the Pirates of the Caribbean was supposed to be a walk through Rogue's Gallery with wax figures. Walt figured out that boats (which he did for the It's A Small World ride) and audio-animatronics (which he did for the 1964 New York World's Fair) would work better. But if you think about it: pirates and boat certainly go together!

Oh, and what did Walt do for the World's Fair? An animatronic of President Abraham Lincoln in an attraction called Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. After the Fair closed, the Disney pavilion was demolished and it was thought that the Lincolnbot was lost forever. Years later, someone discovered it packed in a crate - the animatronic president is now on display.

The ride starts at Laffite's Landing, where you board a boat after waiting in line for what seems to be three and a half days or so. The Lafitte in Lafitte's Landing refers to Jean Lafitte (often spelled Laffite), a real life pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico (and subsequent American war hero) in the late 1700s/early 1800s. (Photo: John Bellamy at pirates.wikia.com)

When you passed the Blue Bayou restaurant, look up at the second story of the building. You may think that it's a facade, but the balcony actually belongs to Club 33, a member-only restaurant that most of us can't afford to join (it costs tens of thousands of dollars to join, plus there's a ten year waiting list anyhow). But who says you can't see the inside of Club 33? YouTube to the rescue!

The lyrics to Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me), the theme song of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride that you hear early on, was written by Disney Imagineers X Atencio and George Bruns. (X? How cool is that! Actually he was born "Xavier" but became X later on in life). It was based on Robert Louis Stevenson's sailor's work song (or sea shanty) "Dead Man's Chest" found in his 1883 novel Treasure Island. (Photo: Disney Legends)

Dead Chest Island is actually an uninhabitable island close to the island of Tortola in eastern Caribbean. The lyric "Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest" and "Yo Ho Ho, and a bottle of rum!" referred to the pirate Blackbeard's habit of leaving crewmen on the deserted island, with only a bottle of rum, to die as punishment.

Back to the song for a minute. The Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me) was sung by The Mellomen, a barbershop quartet that also sang many songs for Disney films. They also sang as backup singers for Elvis. The frontman of The Melloman, Thurl Ravenscroft, was the voice of Tony the Tiger, of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes.

OK, let's continue with the ride itself. Whether you love the old Pirates of the Caribbean or the new one with all the movie tie ins, you've got to admit, the floating head of Davy Jones on a waterfall of fog (fogfall?) is kind of cool. But who is Davy Jones? No, not the guy from the Monkees or the early stage name of David Bowie - Pirates of the Caribbean's character Davy Jones came from the old seaman's idiom "Davy Jones' Locker". It means the bottom of the sea: if someone was sent to Davy Jones' Locker, it means that he died at sea.

When the Pirates of the Caribbean first opened, Imagineers thought that the fake skeletons used were unconvincing. So they bought real human skeletons from UCLA Medical Center and used them as props. These have since been changed (phew!)

Remember the talking skull on the wall at the beginning of the ride? The original voice (now changed) was actually X Atencio's. Many other voices on the ride - like the auctioneer pirate, ship's captain and mayor - was provided by Paul Frees, who also did the Ghost Host in the Haunted Mansion. But those were not Paul's most famous work: he was also the voice of Pillsbury Doughboy.


The Pooped Pirate before (L) and after (R).
Photos: Tellnotales.com and FilmEdge (c) Disney

The most famous pirate of the entire ride - besides the newly added Jack Sparrow, Davy Jones and Captain Barbossa for the movie tie-in - is the Pooped Pirate. Originally, the Pooped Pirate was shown boasting and waving a lady's lingerie while a woman peeked up from inside an oak barrel behind his back. But that was too raunchy for Disney - the Pooped Pirate was changed to the gluttonous pirate (the woman in the barrel was replaced by a cat) and then to a regular fat pirate holding the key and map (with Jack Sparrow in the barrel). X Atencio didn't like the change, and said that the ride was Pirates, not Boy Scouts of the Caribbean ...

If you love the new Jack Sparrow animatronics, check this YouTube clip where Johnny Depp met his robot counterpart:

When Pirates of the Caribbean first opened, people thought that real flame was used for the burning town scene. Actually, the flickering flames are created by illuminating strips of cellophane blowing through the air. The fake flames are so convincing that the Anaheim Fire Department requested that they be automatically turned off in case of fire so firefighters can fight the real blaze and not waste time battling artificial ones! (Source)

Remember the jail scene where several characters were trying to get the key from the dog? The whistling guy in the middle is based on a janitor that used to work at what is now called Walt Disney Imagineering.

Just because the ride is dark, it doesn't mean that The Mouse doesn't see any hanky pankies goin' on. Like other rides in Disneyland, the Pirates of the Caribbean has many infrared security cameras - park operators can see what young lovers try to do. Sometimes they use the PA system to ... erhm, gently remind them that they're actually in public. Sometimes, if the deed is done, Disney cast members would applaud the romancin' riders who would then realize that they were being watched all along.

Purists: nostalgic about the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride? Here's a neat YouTube clip from the Wonderful World of Disney:


[YouTube Clip]

Now, I'm sure I missed a whole lot of neat Pirates of the Caribbean trivia - Do you have anything to add? Please do so in the comment section. (And if you like this Neatorama Fact feature, what should we do next? The Haunted Mansion? Indiana Jones Adventure? Space Mountain?)

More Disney Articles on Neatorama:

Disneyland Remodeling "It's a Small World"
The Dark Side of Disney

Neat article, but just a couple of points of clarification. Even before the Disney made exhibits at the 1964 World's Fair were off the drawing board, Walt already knew just where they would end up at Disneyland. What had been lost and refound was the original shipping crate for Mr Lincoln, which is now also on exhibit. Also, the skeletons for Pirates were modeled off real skeletons from the beginning, and in many cases were purchased from medical supply houses, but at no time where real human bones used in the ride as that would be illegal under California law.

Yo ho Yo ho.
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I had a really traumatic experience on the Haunted House ride at Disneyworld, not Disneyland. And I revisited it as an adult and was surprised by my original perceptions of the ride. So, I, for one, would be really interested in learning more about the Haunted House at Disneyland.
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I also have a few quibbles with details, but mine are solely on account of having finished Neil Gabler's amazingly thorough (and exhaustively researched) biography.

The earlier commenter is correct, and in fact there were two animatronic Lincolns built - the one for the fair, and another specifically for Disneyland.

As for Pirates being Disney's favorite ride, well, by that time Walt didn't much care for Disney rides, instead focusing his energy on EPCOT. He "participated" in designing it, but it isn't likely he cared very deeply about it.
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No, Mr Lincoln is the main speaker at the "Hall of Presidents" at WDW, in the Magic Kingdom. "The American Adventure", in the World Showcase at Epcot, is hosted by Mark Twain and Ben Franklin.
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Growing up in Florida, Pirates at WDW was always one of my absolute favorites... And then this year I was able to go to DLR, and experience it for the first time, and I was just blown away. It's one of the only rides that I deem even better "out there" ;-) Everyone told me it was, but those were people who grew up out there, so they were biased!! lol.

Haunted Mansion should be next. It's got a huge following, so getting info certainly shouldn't be a problem Walt had lots of fun ideas when he first started creating it.

(oh, and one other point... You don't HAVE to have tens of thousands of dollars to get into Club33... well, to be a member, yes, to get inside, it's not that expensive.. lol.. The Walk In Walt's Footsteps tour gets you inside... Plus a tour of the park and lunch!)
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Interesting article. I just want to add that the deep booming baritone voice that sings the POTC song is the same guy who sang in the original animated "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" as well as the voice of Tony the Tiger, the late great Thurl Ravenscroft.
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FYI, Davy Jones wasn't Bowie's "early stage name," it's his real name (or rather, David Jones is his real name). He changed it to Bowie after the Monkees became popular and he wanted to avoid confusion.
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Thanks for the WWoD video of the original ride that I loved as a child! I took my daughter to WDW not knowing that they had updated the ride to reflect the movie series - she loved it, but I was a little sad - nostalgia is a powerful thing.
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I can understand them updating it and throwing Jack Sparrow in here and there -- it's called marketing.

The only problem is, the Sparrow figures are so convincing they make the other figures look crappy.

As far as being PC, that's just ridiculous. I don't understand why everything has to be sanitized for our protection.
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According to Mouse Tales: A Behind the Ears Look at Disneyland, a small but real fire broke out in the fire scene. When disembarking riders informed the cast members, the latter said "Yes, it really does look real," at first. The fire damaged a lamp post and two "pirates" before it was put out. The pirates were replaced (or perhaps repaired- I don't remember) but they thought the burnt lamp post worked nicely in context and left it that way.
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My dad worked for the city of Anaheim, so we got "magic key" tickets and some sort of special pass. I went on the ride during the first month of operation, when I was nine years old.

Not knowing what to expect, that first waterfall drop scared the crap out of everyone! The whole ride was definitely one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my childhood.

There was an incident (about a year ago, I think?) when they shut down the ride because they saw someone dumping a powdery substance into the water during the ride; turned out that someone was dumping in the cremated ashes of a hard-core PotC fan who wanted to spend eternity there. They totally drained and refilled all the water, sad to say.
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I have a tradition that whenever I'm on the ride and am passing the "treasure room" part, I pitch a coin onto the piles and add to the pirate treasure.
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Ok, the Haunted Mansion is definitely the most logical next step. LOVE that ride! I went on it four times the other week in WDW.

The Mr. Lincoln A-A figure was in the Illinois Pavilion, there was no Disney Pavilion. WED Enterprises (now WD Imagineering) made Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for Illinois, Carousel of Progress for GE, "it's a small world" for Pepsi for UNICEF, and The Magic Skyway for Ford (not related to the Skyway at the parks.)

And you forgot to mention the story of WDW's Pirates! Walt Disney World was supposed to get the Western River Expediton, a western-type boat ride, instead of Pirates of the Caribbean. WED thought Florida was too close to the Caribbean, so it wouldn't be interesting. But they got so many complaints that there was no Pirates ride, they hastily put one in in Adventureland. Supposedly it pales in comparison to Disneyland's.

@Engineer. Yep. Your reservation for a meal includes park admission, and it's the only place in Disneyland that serves alcoholic drinks. It was supposed to be where Walt Disney's elite dining would take place, and his new apartment (where the Disney Dream Suite is now) would connect to it. Animatronic vultures still sit silent in the Trophy Room where Walt would put on a show. Props from movies like Mary Poppins and The Happiest Millionaire line the walls. Plus, as a member you get to ride in the Lilly Belle luxury VIP caboose on the Disneyland Railroad. It must be pretty magnificent to dine in Walt Disney's last dream.

Ooh, and that reminds me, Carousel of Progress would be a good topic. Saw that the other week. Or "it's a small world." DEFINITELY The Haunted Mansion.
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I am proud to say that my grandfather's company, Arrow were the ones that built the underlying rides for many of the Disney attractions, including the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, the Matterhorn etc. He, Karl Bacon, and his partner Ed Morgan, just recently passed away, but it is nice knowing that their legacy will live on.
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I love POTC, but I'm afraid the one in Disneyland Paris is superior. There are two drops during the Paris ride, the best being just after the scene with the pirates in jail trying to coax the dog with the key. The American one is good, but I prefer the small adrenaline rushes in the Paris one.
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Tokyo Disney land has a great pirates ride too. As a PotC fan since childhood (lived in LA til I was 10) I was psyched to see my favorite ride, only they were all speaking "Nihon-go". Since I speak Japanese, this was considerably awesome to me. :)
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I just love these stories about the creation of Disneyland and Disneyworld (when the facts are right). In the comments section, facts are corrected and if you do any Internet research on the subject, you get all sorts of rumors and stories which are difficult to sort fact from fiction. By the way, if I'm not mistaken, I think Neatorama covered the Haunted Mansion stories not too long ago, but it may have been part of a larger story on the creation of the park in general. You'll have to do a search for it, if you like.
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I worked at Disney Land for a while in the mid 80s. Interesting fact...the DEC (Disnelyland Employees Cafeteria was located underground and a wall separated the cafeteria from the POTC ride.

Many lunchtimes were spent listening to faint sounds of Yo Ho Ho and the screams or riders going down the waterfall - don't remember if it was waterfall 1 or 2.

Man - did I get tired of that song (along with the Main Street Electrical Parade Theme).
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I was just at Disneyland and asked a person working the Pirate's ride and he said the is one original skeleton left, the skull and cross bones on the headboard where the skeleton is lying on the bed.
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Lincoln first appeared at the 1964 World's Fair at the State of Illinois pavilion - Watch Walt introduce him
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvfjvBO2l2Y
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