Pirates of the Caribbean makeover: What took so long?

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?”

The exterior of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Walt Disney World.

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.

In the original version of Pirates of the Caribbean, this scene saw women in chains being offered up for auction, with drunken pirates shouting “We wants the redhead!”

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.

In the updated scene, a pirate auctioneer now oversees a sale of the townspeople’s most prized possessions and goods. Oh, yeah, and rum.

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?

Chuck Schmidt, bitten by the Disney bug at an early age, remembers watching The Mickey Mouse Club after school in the mid-1950s. During his 48-year career in the newspaper business, he channeled that love of Disney as the Sunday News and Travel editor for The Staten Island Advance. Chuck has written or co-authored six books for Theme Park Press, including Disney's Dream Weavers, On the Disney Beat, An American in Disneyland Paris, Disney's Animal Kingdom: An Unofficial History. Chuck has shared his passion for all things Disney in his Still Goofy About Disney blog on AllEars.Net since 2016. He resides in Beachwood, N.J., with his wife Janet. They have three adult children and six grandchildren.

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24 Replies to “Pirates of the Caribbean makeover: What took so long?”

  1. I am not a fan of the changes. My kids always loved this ride because it was interesting. Disney was not afraid to show history as it was. Disney has always been a place which embraces magic, which to some is not appropriate for kids either, but if they took the magic out of the parks then what would be left. These changes took a little of the magic out of the park for our family.☹️

  2. I think If your offended by a scene in a RIDE, either way, you might be taking the RIDE too seriously ; )
    Also, if your daughter is coming out of a ride or any entertainment event thinking women don’t have value you might want to reconsider your approach to parenting.

  3. Kids do notice things like this. Especially little girls. It’s just one of the endless subconscious messages society drums into them about how they are never good enough.

    I was surprised when Disney went the alcohol and guns route with the new scene, as that’s not a great message either. However, I’m more surprised at the number of people who think it’s OK for their kids to see women depicted as chained up chattel to be sold at the whim of a man. Particularly in a country with such a shameful history of slavery. But it appears the only history that matters to some people is the imaginary Disney kind.

    I thought it was a great article. Kudos to the author.

  4. And yet, the Indians are still in Peter Pan.

    And yet, the subtle racisms in Living with the Land still exist.

    And yet, you still see Jim Crow merchandise from Dumbo.

    And yet, this was a non-issue and they ruined the ride for it. Stupidity is all this is. There are so many other spots they could have improved in other rides or merchandise but no. Feminists had to be appeased.

  5. This article perpetuates ignorance. Pretending history didn’t happen helps no one. So you’re telling me that promoting guns and alcohol which happen to be much bigger problems than wench auctioning these days, is a better scenario? You can’t keep trying to hop from issue to issue and wipe it clean from history. If you do, you’re going to have just a bunch of animatronics standing there doing nothing. Should we take Peter Pan and Hook sword fighting out of Peter Pan because it’s promoting violence? This is stupidity at its finest. It never ends. By PC standards, everything is offensive so everything would have to go. Just stop!

    1. Slightly altering a scene from a theme park ride is in no conceivable way pretending history didn’t happen.

      There’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write.

    2. You are a smart American. I also cannot support the cleansing of history, i.e., pretending that things did not happen. It is Orwellian and one of the major reasons why America is currently divided.

  6. My family and I have been riding Pirates every year since 1992. My two daughters are adults now and not once did they think anything was wrong with the scenes. They grew up to be strong women not once thinking women should be treated in such a way. If Disney wants to be PC correct, is it ok for a woman with a broom to chase a man and hitting him? Let’s look at It’s a Small World. Young girls (dolls) are dancing and pulling up their dresses for all to see. So, I guess that’s ok for young ladies to see? It’s sad how today’s movie industry can make films showing the torturing and raping of women (as entertainment) yet no one sees anything wrong with that.

  7. If WDW wants to continue to attract people who have patronized WDW for many years why not update PIRATES and other attractions with updated technology. This can be done in a way to WOW us all without catering to the PC CROWD that now runs WDW. As I have said before Walt must be turning over in his grave seeing what the PC CROWD has done to the CROWNING JEWEL that was once DISNEY.

  8. Reading the comments overwhelming my thoughts. Rediculous changing. Most people never gave it a second thought until a big to do was made. Shame on Disney for bowing to the trouble makers…but not surprised. Still a huge Disney fan…be there next month for 2 weeks! Lighten up people

  9. So we should probably remove the weapons from anywhere in the attraction – we wouldn’t want people to feel it is ok to carry guns around the park, right ? I guess the attraction should be now called the Pirates of Penzance. Everybody dance! The PC world has, to me, gone over the top – while many changes are called for, it is amazing what people find that they think needs fixing. It depicts long ago and “lightly” how things were. Should we next edit history books? Wouldn’t want people to emulate the wrong behavior! I particularly loved the scene as it was, as my wife is a redhead, and I always shout out “I got the redhead!”. So change the theme song from a pirates life to the Major-General song. Did pirates tap dance much do you think?

  10. Wow! Just another example of people being too sensitive. Kids do not think that “Am I going to be in chains because of this ride”. No. I am Disney purist. Once again, adults take all the fun out of things. That was the brilliance of Walt Disney. He was child like without being childish. He would convince us that people are smarter than the eggheads who are always looking at politics issues. Just harmless fun. What took so long? Indeed,

  11. I think the change was well done. I was upset at first, but the change does not take away from the ride. Walt was always about change. Go see the Tiki birds to see an attraction still the same from opening as well as Carousel of Progress. I also love the addition of Red who walks around talking to guests on occasion.

  12. I was very disappointed in the changes to the “auction” scene, which was always one of my favorites. This ride is about pirates and most pirates were not nice people. Just listen to the lyrics of the theme song: “We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot. We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot. We extort, we pilfer, we filch and sack. Maraud and embezzle and even high-jack”. That was the nature of pirates. They were not PC kinds of people. Political correctness and pirates are incongruous. I realize that the ride is a light-hearted version of pirates but they are pirates just the same. The ride used to have a fun edge to it. To me, the ride has now become so watered down that a lot of the fun has been drained from it.

    1. For real! I’ll still quote the old lines lol. As a kid it scared me since they say we wants the redhead. Since I too have red hair, I though they’d get me. It was a great childhood memory. I’m mad about it honestly. But whatever 🙁

  13. I’ve been going to Disneyland for the majority of my life, and have never thought slavery was ok because of it. I guess I missed my chance to be the Redhead for Halloween. No one will know who I am.

  14. Perhaps we should discontinue this attraction. After all, Pirates are bad people, are they not. If we are going to be PC Correct everywhere, in all things we see and do in life. Then enjoy this attraction now. For I see a time where someone, perhaps myself, will have to say I am offended by this attraction. And if someone wants to tell me that a young person will or is offended by the original scene from the last 45 years. Compared to the TV Shows, Movies, Video Games and the things they hear and see from their peers on a daily basis. I’m sorry but I can not wrap my head around that. As I have always told my daughter and now my grandson, “You are who you are”.

  15. I am far from a PC type person and never really thought about the scene much until recently. Human and sex trafficking are huge problems in the US and young women are abducted, sold and even killed today for money. I have two young daughters and thinking about them and how I would feel if one of them were to be taken and sold is just a thought I can not bear. So I agree with the scene changes and saw it this summer for the first time. It does not take away from the original spirit of the attraction at all and in fact I enjoyed hearing the redhead speak more. She is a great character and is more admired by fans of the ride than the auctioneer himself.

  16. The original scene was iconic that’s why it stayed so long! “We wants the redhead” was on so many pieces of merchandise!!!!

    Kids don’t notice things like adults do and to take away a scene like that just angers me, Pirates was the last ride the Walt created and to take. Away something iconic is just insulting to Walt and the park he created, the new scene is good but the dialogue is awful, Redd does look amazing but Disney should have kept “we wants the Redhead” in the ride simply because it’s an iconic line. Every Disney fan knows that line