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Disneyland Ex Machina

Oi, Redhead: Pirates of the Caribbean, in review


It’s better than the movies. Pirates of the Caribbean, the 40-year-old Disneyland ride, is better than the hit movies it spawned. Also, it’s better than more than half the rides in the Park, better than half the movies you’ve ever seen, better than half the moments in your life, and perhaps better than at least half the sex you’ve ever had. Everybody has their off days, y’know.

POTC is such an impeccably conceived attraction that there’s really no point to my writing about how awesome it is. Were I to go off on such a tear I’d just end up sounding like Chris Farley’s Saturday Night Live character: Hey, Walt Disney, y’know that Pirates of the Caribbean ride you made? Dude, it’s awesome. We nod our heads in solemn agreement, and talk inevitably turns to things that are less cool and awesome, which as I’ve said amounts to roughly half the things on this planet. I used to have a friend who, back in the 1970s, would drop off his daughters at the Park, spend the entire afternoon drinking at the Disneyland Hotel, and enter Disneyland only to ride Pirates six times in a row. He hated Disney and Disneyland, but loved Pirates — a contradiction that more or less proves my 50% theory.

This brings up something I’ve bean meaning to address here and haven’t yet had the opportunity to do: I want you to know why I’m keeping this bl-g in the first place. I can break it down to three basic points:

1. I love Disneyland but I run hot and cold on everything else Disney. In the plus column is Pixar, pre-1990s EPCOT Center, the animation of the Nine Old Men, the “Little Mermaid”/”Beauty and the Beast”/”Aladdin”/”Lion King” streak and the Jack Kinney “How-to” Goofy cartoons. In the minus column is Mickey Mouse, the bastardization of Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, the company’s arbitrary stand on copyright issues and every animated film the company has produced since 1994. (I would have listed ABC in the red column but for “Ugly Betty.” Damn you, America Ferrera, for ensnaring me with your humble and winning nature.)

2. I love Disneyland as a piece of American pop art. It’s on a par with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz,” “I Love Lucy,” the Holiday Inn sign and the works of Edward Hopper. Like those iconic, oft-imitated works, Disneyland is absolutely one of a kind and not even Disney’s other theme parks can hope to stand up to it. Disneyland IS Walt Disney — the parts of him that he’d like for you to remember, in any case. When you walk around Disneyland, you walk in his footfalls, take in his sights, breathe the air that he breathed. Perhaps no other American artist has created so eternal a work.

3. I love Disneyland, but I also love a lot of stuff that’s as diametrically opposed to Disney as one can get. I listen to Steve Reich, Art Blakey and Cut Chemist. I read raunchy erotica, obscenity-laden fiction and revolutionary screed. I dig on the “pop surrealism” of Ryan Heshka and Audrey Kawasaki. I love dive bars and urban decay as much as I love swank cocktail lounges and gleaming futurism.

I’m not telling you this because I want to make myself look cool: believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. What I’m trying to say is that while Disneyland is part of my range of interests, it’s not all of it. With a few exceptions — some of which are linked at right — most of the Disneyland sites I’ve read seem to be rooted in a giddy love of all things Disney. To paraphrase a popular Todd Haynes movie, that’s fine only if you don’t look at the world.

So, when I write in here, I’m talking to you. Yes, you. You’ve never read a Disneyland bl-g before and don’t know why anyone would, or you read the bl-gs but balance them with RSS subscriptions to Boing Boing, Gridskipper, the New York Times and Audacia Ray. The world is full of hardcore Disney fans and I bless every one of them from their Mickey Mouse-embossed flatware sets to their lanyards covered with collectible pins, but I’m writing this for the other fans — those fans whose love of Disney is concealed beneath of a love of geinōkai or on a slightly deformed Malificent sticker on the backside of a bass guitar. I’m here for the fans whose love of Disneyland dare not speak its name.

And as such, I think we can all agree that the recent, movie-themed additions to Pirates just don’t hold up. Sure, the Audio-Animatronic Johnny Depp figures are okay — they’re well-crafted and they don’t intrude on the original story. Ditto the mist curtain that reveals the hentai-like visage of Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones. But replacing Paul Frees’ taunting buccaneer with a Geoffrey Rush-voiced Barbossa figure is right fucking out. I like Rush an awful lot, but his voice is too thin to fill out the battle scene the way Frees’ did, and the Barbossa character just doesn’t read that well from a distance.

(Now, if the Imagineers had added Rush’s character from “Quills,” that would have been all right with me. That would give the attraction a shot of ribaldry that’s been sorely lacking since the pirates stopped chasing the wenches and vice-versa. And the nudity would be no problem: as I recall, Rush’s package was artfully concealed.)

Are these additions enough to fully diminish the awesome? No, not really. I still get a rush (not a Geoffrey Rush, though my first name is Geoffrey … so I guess it is kind of a “Geoffrey rush,” though never mind) when the flatboat plunges into the darkness of those lonesome caverns. I never fail to hum that earworm of a theme song as the boat winds through scenes of plunder, carnage and destruction. And I will always declare my undying devotion for the redhead. Oi, redhead.

(By the way, if you search for “pirates” and “redhead” on YouTube, you get a girl doing a clothed, borderline NSFW pole dance to the “Pirates” movie theme. Just saying.)

No matter how many times I ride Pirates of the Caribbean, I still hop out of the boat with the intent of getting back on immediately. I could do it a dozen, two dozen times in one day and relish every beautiful moment. It’s the last story Walt ever told, and it ranks with his best. By comparison, I have trouble getting through any of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies without hitting fast-forward or skipping a chapter.




  1. Whatwhatwhat? Your love of Disney is moderated and tempered by a love of other things?! How can this be? Heresy! ^_^

    Maybe that's why I've been enjoying your blog for the past month or so… It's a good balance of affection for Disney but without the Kool-Aid. I like Disney too… perhaps too much… but I actually only really like the Disney version of things I like anyways: Victorian Sci-Fi, Goth stuff, Romanticism and fairy tales, an academic interest in exhibit/ride design…

    As for Pirates, well, I did enjoy the first movie, but I agree that the additions to the ride just don't work. It's not my favorite ride (Temple of the Forbidden Eye and Tower of Terror for quality, Haunted Mansion for sentimentality) but it is a real classic that should have been technologically improved but not so disasterously fumbled.

    Anyways, uh, thanks for the post!

  2. Audacia Ray

    2007/11/27 at 4:40 AM

    Thanks for the name drop!

  3. I love this blog even if it does belong on Vox!

  4. Dude, you know I'm with you on the eclectic aesthetic . . . my bookshelf's got everything from Legs McNeil to Pat Califia to Margarite Henry. And I do agree with you about the movie-themed additions to POTC at Disneyland. But man, you really don't like even the first POTC movie? I've always thought that Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow was the cutest drunken queer boy ever in Disney live action film.

    – Jennifer, aka Kitty-Chan

  5. Geoff Carter

    2007/11/29 at 2:21 AM

    Jennifer – I looooooove Cap'n Jack and Johnny Depp. I love Barbossa and Geoffrey Rush (and if his AA figure on the ride was closer to the boats, where his menace would read oh so much better, I'd probably like it, too). I love the look of the film, the sheer audacity of marrying pirate movies to monster movies, and all the wonderful character actors who fill out the world.

    However — and this is a big, big "however" — I die a little inside every time Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are on screen, alone or together. Their characters do little but whine and complain, and they knock me right out of the film. They're both fine actors, but their parts are badly written, badly directed and just plain bad. I tend to fast-forward through them to get to the rally good bits with Depp and Rush.

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