Saturday, March 7, 2015

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men (Used to) Tell Tales

By Randy Crane

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the truly great Disney attractions, but did you know it’s also a time-travel attraction? As Guests go back in time to experience the plundering pirates, we ride through an object lesson on the dangers of unrestrained indulgence. After the break, dead men will tell tales…

On July 24, 1966, New Orleans Square became the first new “land” added to Disneyland since the park opening, though Imagineers had been working on concepts for it since 1957. The first attraction to open in the new land was Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates of the Caribbean opened on March 18, 1967, and was the most advanced, elaborately themed attraction that had ever been built. Over sixty Audio Animatronic human characters, around fifty Audio Animatronic animals, and rich details made this sixteen-minute attraction an instant and perpetual favorite.

It’s also the last attraction that Walt Disney personally supervised. New Orleans Square opened about five months before he died, and Pirates opened about three months after. Major work was completed by the time he passed away on December 15, 1966, ten days after his sixty-fifth birthday.

“X” Atencio

Pirates of the Caribbean has undergone two major changes over the years. In 1997, the ride was closed for about two months for an update that included modifying a scene where pirates were chasing women so that they would be shown chasing food instead. The dialog of one of the only pirates who speaks in this scene (sometimes unofficially known as the “Pooped Pirate”) was also changed to conform to the new scene. This update led to what show writer “X” Atencio referred to as “Boy Scouts of the Caribbean.”

In 2006, Captain Jack Sparrow and others from the Pirates of the Caribbean films (which were inspired by the attraction) were added. The storyline was also changed significantly at that time, but it seems few are aware of the magnitude of the change. Originally the story portrayed random pirates looting and pillaging a town, but now the pirates were searching for Jack Sparrow. Most importantly (to me, anyway), the last scene was completely overhauled.

Let me back up for a moment.

As the ride begins, passengers are warned that “dead men tell no tales,” and then we plunge down two waterfalls into a grotto that shows the skeletons of pirates––some mid-battle, one piloting a shipwreck, and a couple having a drink (or trying to—it’s tough with no insides). We float through the Captain’s Quarters, where we see the captain—as a skeleton—admiring the treasure piled up around him. We again hear a disembodied warning that “These be the last friendly words you’ll hear. You may not survive to pass this way again.”

And with that, we pass through fog and into a battle between the pirates and occupants of a fort. Suddenly everyone is alive and shooting, or drinking, or chasing, or burning, or whatever. After passing through all of the town scenes and a final shootout, we arrive at the hill that takes us back to the dock, and it is here that the most significant story change has occurred.

Originally, and up until the addition of the movie characters, the final scenes consisted of two pirates trying to drag a huge haul of treasure up the hill, escaping from the city with their riches. A short distance farther up the hill we would see the pirates, now as skeletons and with one attacking the other, but still clutching the treasure chest as the ghostly voice again echoes, “Dead men tell no tales.”

Now, however, in that same space, Jack Sparrow lounges in a room full of treasure and gloats about his success.

Think about what the story was, because it is there that we find our lesson. We began the boat ride at the end of the story, with pirates as skeletons, not learning from the dangers of their ways: that their path would end in death. This theme lasts all the way up to the dark grotto after the Captain’s Quarters, but when we pass through the fog we, in effect, step back in time to see the pirates as they were. We travel through and see them doing what they do, and it kind of looks like fun. They sure seem to be having a good time, anyway. But as we begin to climb the hill, we literally and figuratively head back to where we started, and we are reminded of the perils of being “rascals, scoundrels, and ne’er-do-well cads” (as the song says).

Dead men have, indeed, told tales. Is there a Christian parallel?

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The wages of sin here (at Pirates) were, indeed, death. We may think it’s different for us, but while it may not be as obvious, the end result is still the same.

Do you see how dramatically the storyline has changed?

The lesson in the attraction has spelled itself out for us (though subtly enough that most people completely miss it). But did you know it goes even farther than that? You may have heard of the “Seven Deadly Sins.” It is not a biblical concept, really (though Proverbs 6:16–19 serves as a basis for the idea), but it does have roots as far back as the mid-fourth century. All seven of these “deadly sins” were illustrated in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, and many still are. Take a look:

Pride: Most everything the pirates do is rooted in pride in one form or another. A couple of townspeople provide examples, too: “the redhead” (who looks pretty full of herself) and Carlos, who refuses to give up the location of the treasure, but seems to be defiant (at least in part) to impress his wife.

Envy: The pirates try to get the location of the treasure out of the mayor. They want what he has. (This can also fall under greed.)

Gluttony: The pirates chase the food. Before the attraction’s overhaul, and even now, there are many scenes of pirates loaded up with food and/or alcohol.

Lust: The auction scene shows women being offered as brides for sale. Also, before food was added to a woman’s hands, pirates were lustfully reaching for women. (The Pooped Pirate was lust at its most obvious.)

Anger/Rage: All of the fighting scenes demonstrate this sin, especially the battle between the ship and the fort.

Greed/Avarice: The Captain’s Quarters and the two pirates stealing the chest at the end are probably the best examples of this vice.

Sloth: At least two pirates on the right side of the boat just lounge around (one with a couple of pigs interested in him, the other trying to entice a couple of cats).

You may have thought of other examples as you trekked through this sin-laden fictional place. With the addition of characters from the movies, some of these vices are no longer obvious, but without much trouble you can probably find new examples to replace the ones that have been removed.

While the attraction reflects more of a movie tie-in now, Pirates of the Caribbean used to have its own story. Many remnants of that story can still be seen today. It’s a fun ride, but it’s also a reminder. Our actions have consequences, and whether we want to admit it or not, sin, no matter how much fun it may seem at the time, does lead to death.

Takeaway: What “seemed like fun at the time” to you, but after spiritual reflection you’ve since realized was destructive in your life?
Randy Crane is a highly-regarded speaker and author, presenting engaging and thought-provoking messages on a variety of topics. He has a natural rapport and connection with audiences that makes them relate well to him, engage in his presentations, and come away with a fresh understanding of the subject at hand. Randy is also the host of the “Stories of the Magic” unofficial Disney podcast, where he interviews people from throughout the Disney company, from front-line Cast Members to Legends. Randy grew up in the church, but—like many others—wandered away from the faith for a time in high school. Now, he is an ordained minister, with both a Bachelor’s degree in Church Ministry (emphasis in Preaching) and a Master’s degree in Congregational Leadership from Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He has been preaching and teaching since 1998, and has been a drummer/percussionist on church worship teams since 1992. He married his wonderful wife Faye in November of 2000 and they are expecting their first child in April of 2015. Randy is the author of two books, Once Upon YOUR Time and Faith and the Magic Kingdom.

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