Whenever a group of Disney Legends gathers to talk about the good old days, be it at a fan convention, expo or the opening of a new attraction in a Disney theme park, they almost always are asked the same question: “What would Walt think?”
Although the question is impossible to answer, the Legends will always smile and offer their best opinion of what the man they loved and admired would have thought about a modern-day Disney project.
Whenever the late Marty Sklar was asked the “What would Walt think?” question, he never hesitated in his response. “Walt would say, ‘What took you so long?’”
I thought of Marty recently after seeing the revisions made to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.
Since the vastly popular attraction opened in in WDW 1973, there was one scene during the boat ride that was, frankly, inappropriate.
It was the scene which depicted boisterous, drunken pirates, circa the 1800s, yelling “We wants the redhead!” as a red-headed woman lifted her frilly dress to reveal a bit of her calf. To her right was a line of four other women, all bound together in chains. A large sign behind them read: Auction: Take a Wench for a Bride. As your boat drifted past the auction scene, a voice could be heard telling the woman to “Show ‘em your larboard side, deary …”
That’s right: In the heart of a place which prides itself in wholesome, family entertainment, a scene depicting enslaved woman up for auction was prominently displayed.
That scene – as degrading and dehumanizing as it sounds – played out for nearly 45 years before it was drastically altered earlier this summer. To paraphrase Marty Sklar and Walt Disney: What took so long?
Hundreds of millions of Disney guests have viewed the scene in question since the attraction opened in Disneyland in 1967 and in Walt Disney World in 1973. Over the years, Pirates of the Caribbean has seen changes, most notably the insertion of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow character and the villainous Barbossa into the storyline during several spots along the route. But the auction scene remained unchanged … until this summer. To many, the scene was viewed as too over the top when weighed on the political correctness scale. Sure, those are Audio-Animatronics figures up there, not real people, but perception is important. And it turns out perception played a big role in initiating the changes.
Having learned from Sklar himself that Walt Disney was always open to altering his attractions, Walt Disney Imagineering veteran and regional director Kathy Mangum headed up a team that looked into the possibility of reworking the auction scene. Her chief impetus? “I kept thinking of a little girl riding that boat right now. Is this a scene we want her to be seeing?”
In the end, the little girl won out.
Mangum and her team consulted with women’s groups, Disney historians and company executives before making the decision to alter the scene. Then they dug into the Disney archives to find original concept drawings in hopes of making the transition as true to the original attraction as possible. “We wanted to be respectful to the tone and the sense of humor,” Mangum said. “If you put the [original and revised] scenes side by side, you might not even notice the difference.”
The new scene still features a woman standing in front of La Cantina, but this new character is an auctioneer [dressed in a red dress and wearing a tri-cornered hat while brandishing a pistol and a bottle of rum] who is more interested in selling rum than human cargo. Also up for auction are a crate full of hens.
The large sign behind the new auctioneer now reads just Auction and there’s still a line of people [two men and two women who appear as if they were borrowed from The Haunted Mansion] who are hoping to sell off their wares [a bust, a painting, a large wooden clock and a candelabra] rather than be sold themselves. The man who previously held the women’s chains remains positioned behind the auctioneer, but he’s now holding a rifle, while the goats who lined the water’s edge remain in the scene.
The audio has been altered as well, with lines like “We wants the rum” and “How much for these hens?” replacing lines like “Strike your colors, you brazen wench. No need to expose your superstructure.”
As we’ve said, Pirates of the Caribbean has been no stranger to change over the years. In the case of the auction scene, that change was long overdue.
How do you feel about the recent alterations to Pirates of the Caribbean?