Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For… The Redhead

So if you haven’t heard by now, Disney recently made some pretty big announcements about changes coming to the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland (also the foreign parks, but we’re going to focus on the domestic ones for this). In addition to some technical upgrades–audio, lighting, animatronics, etc– the biggest bombshell had to do with… well, the ride’s bombshell. That is to say, the famous redhead.

The iconic auction scene, in which a pirate captain attempts to sell off some of the captured female townsfolk to a surly group of scallywags, will be reimagined at some point in 2018. This means that the sultry redhead, the star of the scene, will no longer be for sale. As such, it’s likely that the classic “we wants the redhead!” line will also be taken out. The popular character isn’t being removed entirely, though, and in fact her entire persona is being redesigned in a new take on the scene. When the ride reopens the redhead will now be a fearsome pirate herself, armed with a rifle, encouraging the townsfolk to “donate” their possessions to her crew. Disney hasn’t given a real reason for this move, but there’s been plenty of speculation, and the biggest suspected cause for the change? The company wanted to get away from a scenario depicting what’s basically human trafficking. Sure, it’s meant to be a cute part of a family attraction, but if you stop and think about it for a second it really is about women being sold to pirates in what’s undoubtedly sex slavery. So it’s strongly believed by fans that this is why the ride is undergoing this particular renovation.

The debate across social media has been a bit insane (it’s social media, though, so this is hardly a surprise). A large number of fans were outraged by the announcement, fuming over what they perceive as Disney caving in to political correctness. Arguments for keeping the popular scene as-is included “it’s historically accurate to actual pirates” as well as “it was one of the last scenes Walt himself worked on”. People begged the company not to mess with the classics, and some people suggested that this was the beginning of a slippery slope in which anything deemed potentially offensive could be removed. While some of the Tweets about it were actually pretty funny and many were well thought out, there was also a lot of anger and vitriol aimed at Disney and at people who defended the change.

utru7833

People against the change wonder what’s next. Will the pirates start helping little old folks across streets, and sing a song encouraging kiddies to finish their vegetables?

On the other side were folks who agreed with taking out the scene. Some felt that, while people may not have thought the gag was a big deal back in the 1960s when it was created, the scenario is uncomfortable and should absolutely be removed in these more socially aware times. Proponents of the change also argued that a strong female pirate character would be pretty cool, and of course Walt’s words about how the Disney parks will “never be finished” have been tossed about quite a bit as well. Again, because it’s Twitter, there was (of course) a fair bit of anger and name-calling from this side as well amid the genuinely good points that were being made.

pirates

If you’re genuinely upset that Disney has decided to change a scene that promotes sex slavery, you may want to stop and think about that for a moment.

Since the announcement, I’ve had discussions about it on both the Magic & Misadventures Facebook page and Twitter feed. I’ve spent time talking with my wife and daughter (both big Disney fans) about it. I’ve read what many others have had to say about it on Twitter, diving into a rabbit hole of Tweets from the entertaining to the disturbing.

When I first heard the news, I was outraged. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my favorite Disney attractions, so the fact that they were making such a big change to such a beloved ride was upsetting. The scene (and the line) have been there and have been a popular part of the attraction for decades, and how dare they mess with it! It’s just a silly scene in a silly theme park ride about pirates, after all!

However, that rage lasted… maybe a half hour tops. Once I really started thinking about it, I realized I was OK with the change. The more I considered it, the more I actually got excited about it.

Here’s the thing: the scene does depict women being sold. Sugar-coat (or pixie dust) it all you want, but at the end of the day that’s what’s going on there. It may be presented as a gag, and it may be the fun Disney-fied version of a human auction, but there’s no denying that the pirate captain is selling women to other pirates. That’s not even getting into the not-so-subtle fat shaming that’s happening, with larger women in the background as the buccaneers call out for the “attractive” one. The scene never offended me personally, true, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more socially conscious and I’ll admit that the whole auction thing does have problems. I also understand that just because the scene didn’t bother me doesn’t mean that it didn’t bother other people. The parks are about entertaining all people of all ages from all cultures, so I’ll accept that my adult-white-American-male viewpoint isn’t necessarily the only (or the correct) one out there, and kudos for Disney for thinking about everyone.

“It’s part of the original ride” people say, as well as “Walt worked on it.” Some have stated that it seems wrong to change something that these Imagineers created. I get that. The work of the people who helped craft these attractions should absolutely be respected. At the same time, they knew that their work could and probably would be changed as the parks changed. Walt said that the parks would never be finished, and this is hardly the first thing that an original Imagineer made that’s been altered. I’d also like to point out too that, in some cases, changing the original vision isn’t a bad thing. Does anybody remember the awful bride that used to live in the attic of the Haunted Mansion? It was a static figure in a dress with no face (just red glowing eyes) and a beating heart, holding a candelabra. The attic itself was uninteresting. Then new Imagineers came along, with new ideas and new technology, and transformed it all into the vastly superior Constance Hatchaway and the story of her many husbands. It’s these beloved classic attractions that keep us coming back to the parks, sure, but seeing new ideas brought to life in them can be exciting (and a reason to ride them again) as well.

In that vein, Disney Legend Marty Sklar had this to say in a recent statement released to various news outlets: “Pirates of the Caribbean has always represented great Disney Park storytelling; it has set the standard for the theme park industry for half a century! But it’s a story you can continue to add fun to, with great characters in new ‘performances.’ That’s what the Imagineers have done with this new auction scene—it’s like a theatre show with a new act. To me, the Imagineers are simply reflecting what Walt started the day Disneyland opened—making changes that create exciting new experiences for our guests. I can’t think of a single attraction that has not been enhanced and improved, some over and over again. Change is a tradition at Disneyland that today’s Imagineers practice—they learned it from their mentors, many of them Walt’s original team of storytellers and designers—the Disney Legends.”

Basically, I figure that if an original Imagineer is OK with it, there’s no reason that I (or anyone else) shouldn’t be.

IMG_4177

I saw a tweet that more or less stated “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to go on the ride” in reference to the auction scene. I would say that, if you’re that upset about this alteration, the same option is available. There’ll be less of a line for those of us who want to give the new version a chance.

Another argument that’s come up in the controversy is that pirates really did sell off women, so historically it’s fine and we shouldn’t be erasing it. My rebuttal is fairly straightforward here: Pirates of the Caribbean is not going for historical accuracy. It’s a Disney ride featuring a fictionalized view of pirates, and not a museum. Also, just because something really happened doesn’t mean we need to celebrate that fact (we shouldn’t forget it, we just don’t need to showcase it for entertainment purposes). Besides, women pirates really did exist. There was Anne Bonny and Mary Read, as well as Ching Shih–one of the most feared and successful pirates in history. So, if accuracy really is a concern, adding in a female swashbuckler still works with that. In fact, from my (admittedly brief) research, records from the time of pirates state that Anne Bonny did in fact have red hair. So it’s still history, just a different take on it.

Ultimately, what made me decide that I was OK with the renovation (aside from the obvious “human trafficking is bad and shouldn’t be glorified” thing) is simply this: the addition of a badass redheaded female pirate who’s terrorizing the townsfolk sounds really cool. Like Constance Hatchaway before her, I see this as a way to reintroduce the redhead as a “new” character, and I’m hoping that it will turn out just as well as it did for the Haunted Mansion’s bride. I’m excited, rather than upset.

Pirate skeleton closeup

I applaud Disney for taking a hard look at a scene that has some really negative connotations, and rather than just shrugging and saying “it’s a classic” they’re taking the time to reimagine it in what sounds like a really cool new way for future (and hopefully more socially conscious) generations to enjoy.

Consider this, too: the arguments against the change are coming from adults. They’re being posted by people who love Disney and have grown up with the parks, and who have emotional attachments to the experience. Much of the backlash is simply because they don’t want something they’ve cherished for so long to be altered. A lot of the (more rational) argument is coming from a place of nostalgia, and I absolutely get that. I’m really going to miss the scene, I’ve grown up seeing and hearing it and to me it’s always been a part of the Pirates of the Caribbean experience. I totally understand the desire not to see classic moments like that get altered. If they had announced that they were majorly overhauling the ride to be all projections rather than animatronics, or that they were turning the whole thing into a ride based on the films and ditching the current story, I’d be right there at the forefront of the outrage. The thing is, though, personally I never gave the scene much deep thought. It was one funny moment in a ride that I really enjoyed, it had some funny lines and characters, and that was it. Step back from that, however, and the scene does have serious issues. As I said in a recent tweet: “accepting change to an iconic ride is tough for adults who grew up with it. But little girls seeing this new badass pirate may be thrilled”. Frankly, if the choice is to keep using the version that portrays women as property or create a new one showcasing a strong woman character for future generations to enjoy, it’s not much of a choice to me. I think that young girls will be excited to see this new pirate, and I really think that it’ll be great for young boys to see her as well–the more strong female characters they see, the more they’ll just accept it as how things are and it (hopefully) won’t be as much of a thing as previous generations make it out to be.

pirate sign

I asked my (twenty-one year old) daughter if, as a young female human, she’d be excited to see a badass female pirate on the ride. Her response: “f*ck yeah!”

Ultimately, there are people who are going to keep being outraged about the change and people who aren’t. The argument will continue, some minds may be changed and others won’t be, but the reality is that the change is going to happen regardless. There’s certainly validity in being upset when a much-loved experience, especially a classic steeped in Disney history, gets altered. At the same time, I feel that being excited to see what the Imagineers create is my stance here. Is a new redhead scene going to lessen my enjoyment of the attraction? Unlikely. My childhood will not be somehow “ruined” because Disney is showing the redhead as a strong female character rather than a victim. I sort of pity those for whom it would.

Chess pirates

I’m on board with the new redhead thing, sure, but if Disney ever removes these chess-playing pirates from the queue I’ll be at the head of the “torches and pitchforks” line.

Advertisements
Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Letter About EPCOT

Dear Powers-That-Be at Disney,

Nowadays it seems that “Epcot” is just a name for a theme park, a word with no real meaning. EPCOT, though, used to stand for something: Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. It was a term coined by Walt himself for his vision of a futuristic city.

The creative vision of the future that led Walt to create EPCOT is as important now as it was then, and perhaps even more so. In the 50’s and 60’s, people dreamed of an exciting future full of robots and rockets. In the 70’s and 80’s, when computers were really becoming mainstream, they offered an incredible digital frontier that captured imaginations. Now, though, what do people dream about when they look ahead? As the concept of a bright and shining future gets further away from our collective consciousness, the need for a place like EPCOT is even more critical.

EPCOT used to represent inspiration. It showcased examples of humanity’s potential. It was a place where we could see amazing possibilities like underwater cities and space colonies, where we could learn about the history of transportation, and where we could discover how advances in communication helped shape our past and future. It was a place where a man and his purple dragon showed the wonders of imagination, where guests could explore other countries, and where innovation met invention.

I use the past tense, because the park seems to be none of those things anymore.

At Destination D in November 2016, Bob Chapek told the audience that EPCOT would soon be undergoing a “major transformation”. He said that it was going to be “more Disney, more relevant, timeless, family oriented, and true to the original vision”. This sounds great to say in front of hundreds of Disney fans (the announcement was met with thunderous applause, particularly the “true to the original vision” part) and the idea of a big EPCOT overhaul is pretty exciting. However, as of yet we’ve seen nor heard anything more about this plan so we’re still left with nothing other than hope that EPCOT will return to its inspirational themes.

The reality is that, for the past several years, many see the park becoming a shadow of its former self. Fans of EPCOT, people who grew up going there and who loved its inspirational and forward-thinking vibe, are disappointed in the direction that it has been taken by Disney executives. Hashtags like #ReturntoCenter and #BringBackTheFuture (and, as a result of recent surveys, #SaveFigment) have gained a fair amount of support on social media as loyal fans try to get the message across: they miss what EPCOT used to be, and they wish it could become that again.

It’s true that many of us really do miss the atmosphere and the attractions of the EPCOT Center of the past. Horizons in particular became a sort of rallying cry, a long-defunct favorite now seen as a symbol of what the park represented and what many feel it no longer does. The ride’s vision of possibilities, shown with the sort of storytelling that we expect from a Disney attraction, and even its tagline of “if we can dream it, we can do it” has become emblematic of the inspirational feeling that people really miss about EPCOT. We miss the fun look at history in World of Motion, and the unbridled whimsy of the original Journey Into Imagination. The park was a place of education as well as entertainment, a place that addressed real topics like science, energy, and nature yet still retained Disney magic–and did so with catchy theme songs like “It’s Fun to be Free” and “One Little Spark”.

These days there are still a few cool things happening in the park, things that inspire and educate. Classic attractions like Living with the Land and Spaceship Earth remain, both of them throwbacks to the park’s beginnings. Newer experiences like Test Track and Mission: SPACE fit well within the Future World mission to entertain, inform, and inspire (loosely, perhaps, but they do in their own ways). Events like Flower & Garden, Food & Wine, and the new International Arts Festival invite guests to discover new experiences from around the world. On the surface it appears–on paper, anyway–that EPCOT is continuing to fulfill its promise.

What the guests and long-standing fans of the park are seeing, despite all that, is different. We’re seeing possibilities get pushed aside for thrills, culture get replaced with characters, and real inspiration fall by the wayside.

We understand that things need to change. Disney parks are constantly evolving, and that’s one of the exciting things about them. We accept, perhaps grudgingly, that the days of Horizons and World of Motion are gone (though I’ll not sure we fully accept the retirement of Dreamfinder).  We understand, when we’re talking about a community of tomorrow, that it needs to keep evolving as tomorrow continues to become yesterday. What we’re asking for isn’t some unrealistic rebuilding of dead attractions. We simply want a return to the themes and goals that EPCOT was based upon. We want inspiration and possibilities, visions of the future, insights into other cultures, and we want to see how imagination can lead to wondrous ideas.

While we keep hoping for a return to form for the inspiring EPCOT that we loved, though, rumors suggest plans that go in the opposite direction. There have been frequent mentions of popular characters–like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Cars–getting shoehorned in with (seemingly) no regard for theming. We have Magic Kingdom for beloved characters, and we have Hollywood Studios for attractions based upon popular movies. We don’t need more of that in EPCOT. We need a focus on the possibilities of the future and inspiration to face the challenges it will take to get there. Obviously I understand that these are rumors, so they should be taken with a big grain of salt. If these rumors are to be believed, though, it seems that the intent is to push the park further away from the science and education focus that was originally envisioned for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. They point to an upsetting possibility–that Disney executives want to take EPCOT in a direction that fans definitely don’t want it to go. 

Is there a middle ground between the science-and-education park that fans want, and character-driven attractions that will entice guests? Probably. If a new ride based on Inside Out is really being considered, which would definitely draw in fans of the film, have it focus on the science behind emotions and use those characters to educate as well as entertain. The futuristic setting of Big Hero 6 would be a great way to introduce robotics to kids and adults as they visit the park. There’s an opportunity to use Marvel properties (once contract issues are sorted out, of course) in a way that can showcase science and technology. Even using characters in World Showcase, to show how real cultures influenced animated features, could be great if done right. While I personally don’t think that EPCOT needs characters to drive its message (other than Figment and Dreamfinder, and maybe Dr. Bunsen Honeydew with Beaker), I understand the desire to use popular franchises to draw people in. As long as it’s done well, with respect to the theme of EPCOT, and not just “hey, these characters have a spaceship and lasers so they’re futuristic”. It’s not about rides full of characters, it’s about attractions that showcase humanity’s history and potential.

Entertainment showing post-apocalyptic wastelands and xenophobia, rather than exciting lands of tomorrow and acceptance, seems to be more popular these days than ever. Inspiration has been lost somewhere over the years, and we need a place where families around the world can go to get it back. We need a place where we can learn about energy and embrace other cultures, where laughing purple dragons can take us on journeys into imagination, and where we can look ahead to new horizons. We need a park that showcases science and real possibilities for our future. Something like this is perhaps more important now than it’s ever been.

We need, now more than ever, an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

IMG_3947

It seems to many fans that the Disney company has forgotten these words, and that the park no longer fulfills these ideals. Some of us, though, still hold out hope that one day EPCOT will once again entertain, inform, and inspire.

Posted in Magic, Nostalgia, Ranting and Raving | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Caring For Giants: A Giant Tour Review

Prior to arriving at Animal Kingdom, I really had no idea what to expect with Caring for Giants. On Disney’s website they call it a tour, a term I echoed on my Facebook page and on Twitter, but that’s not entirely an accurate description. The reality is that it’s more of an experience than anything else. Caring for Giants takes guests behind the scenes for a closer look at the elephants who live in Animal Kingdom, as well as offering the opportunity to talk with animal specialists about how they’re cared for and some of the challenges they face in the wild.

Caring for Giants cost us $30 per person (bear in mind that prices are very subject to change). It’s worth noting that the proceeds from that price go towards conservation efforts. They only take up to fourteen people per group, so reservations are highly recommended. It’s still worth checking, though, if you’re at Animal Kingdom and you want to try to do it without booking in advance. While we were waiting for our reserved time, we saw a couple people come up and manage to get into a group for the same day (though the park wasn’t really that busy).

We arrived at the tour and events check-in desk, right outside of the Kilimanjaro Safari entrance, about fifteen minutes before our 11:00am slot. We rode the safari just before checking in, and it was pouring pretty hard at times during that trip, but Caring for Giants does happen rain or shine. So we were prepared to still see elephants, and just get wet in the process. However, right after we checked in the rain turned into a thunderstorm, and it turns out that the experience will get canceled if there’s lightning. We huddled under the small booth’s roof with a couple other parties (and the cast members) as we waited to see if the weather would clear up, but after close to a half hour of thunder and lightning they finally called it. We were able to move our reservation to the 1:00pm slot, then we left for a bit and hoped that things would get better. As compensation, they offered us a Fastpass for just about any attraction (they did ask specifically which attraction we wanted, and wrote that onto the Fastpass), and we were able to use that to get onto Test Track at EPCOT later in the afternoon.

Fortunately, by the time we got back to the booth at about 12:30pm the worst of the weather had passed. The rain had even started to let up by the time we checked in again, and it stopped completely shortly before we set out to see elephants.

img_3305.jpg

The name tags they give you are made with 85% elephant poop! I’m not sure what the other 15% is.

Once things got underway we were escorted by a cast member through a backstage area to a small bus, and another drove us out to see the elephants. As we rode around behind the scenes, the driver talked about where we were and what we were looking at. We learned a little bit about the night housing for the animals, and why we could see one young elephant hanging out by himself there (male elephants tend to be very solitary, as it’s a matriarchal society).

IMG_3872

The elephant house, where the pachyderms go at night (so cast members can clean the outdoor habitat) and where their care happens. I took this pic as we took the Wildlife Express Train from Harambe to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, as there were no photos allowed on the backstage portion of Caring for Giants.

Once we got to our destination and got off the bus, we were greeted by an animal specialist who escorted us up a few stairs to the elephant viewing area. While not extremely up close and personal, it is much closer than you can get while on the Kilimanjaro Safari vehicles. The specialist spoke about the elephants, and answered any questions that the group had. We learned a lot about their society, the training and enrichment programs at Animal Kingdom, and the personalities of the elephants that live there. She explained how they cared for the animals at the park, and discussed their work with conservation efforts around the world and with other zoos and habitats. While we spoke, we also had the opportunity to take a lot of pictures.

IMG_3900

One of the cool things about Caring for Giants is the fact that you’re able to stand and observe the elephants for a while, rather than just going by their habitat in a safari vehicle.

IMG_3898

Elephants live in a matriarchal society, and this single-tusked female is the boss at Animal Kingdom. She also has an apprentice, a younger female who is learning how to lead the herd.

IMG_3915

We got to see baby Stella, Animal Kingdom’s newest elephant, and she’s adorable.

IMG_3933

It had been raining heavily earlier in the day, but that had cleared up by the time we did Caring for Giants. It was still a bit overcast, and not oppressively hot, which made for a very pleasant experience. The tour will go out rain or shine, though, and the observation area itself is shaded by trees.

IMG_3877

Even getting to watch these beautiful animals do basic things–eat, walk around, scratch against a tree, etc–was really cool.

We stood there for a while, watching the elephants and asking questions. Then Snowie, a woman from South Africa, spoke about some of the peril that wild elephants face there and what’s being done to help save them. It was pretty sobering to spend time watching these majestic creatures and having a fun conversation with the animal specialist about them, only to then learn about the serious danger that they’re in. It really hammered the message home in a powerful way.

IMG_3928

Elephants, as it turns out, are afraid of bees. So in South Africa farmers have devised these “bee fences” to keep elephants off their land. Thin wire stretches between the hives, and if an elephant disturbs that line then bees come out and scare the pachyderm away. Not only does this save farmland (and prevent farmers from killing elephants to protect the land) but there’s the added bonus of a new honey industry!

IMG_3930

This sculpture was created from a wire snares found in the African bush. Not only does removing the snare help protect animals, but using the wire in such a way allows local artists to develop something unique.

After this discussion, Snowie handed out buttons to each of us.

IMG_3379

I said this earlier, but it bears mentioning again: the proceeds from the tour’s price go toward conservation. So you get a great experience, a cool button, and you’re helping save elephants. Not bad for thirty bucks!

After about a half hour at the elephant observation area, we returned to the van, which then took us back to the parking area backstage. From there we were escorted to where we started–the tour desk near Kilimanjaro Safari. We returned our lanyards (we could keep the paper nametags themselves, but they ask for the lanyard back to reuse them), and that was the end of the experience.

IMG_3918

I need to give a big shout-out to the amazing cast members who helped to make our Caring for Giants experience even more awesome. At the front desk there was Ashley, Hollis, and Kelsey. Yuri drove us out to the elephants and back, Ashley (a different one) answered our questions, and Snowie discussed conservation. They were all just great and made the whole thing, even the weather-related drama early on, just that much better.

With Caring for Giants, you’re not really on a guided tour (like, for example, Behind the Seeds at EPCOT) being directed by someone who is feeding you specific information. Instead, you’re brought to a location and from there it’s really up to you to get what you want out of it. Some people were asking lots of questions, others found a good spot and just watched the elephants, and there were those who were focused on getting really good photos. The structure is such that you really get out of the experience what you choose to put into it.

Ultimately, was Caring for Giants worth it? I think so. It was really cool to see the elephants, and while you’re not super close (closer than the safari vehicle gets, but not right up in their trunks) you still get a great view and you have the opportunity to stand there for a while and watch them rather than just roll on by. The cast members were very knowledgeable and answered lots of questions, and I can say that we definitely learned things that we didn’t know before about elephants as well as the dangers they face and the conservation efforts people are using to try and save them. Plus, it was neat to get a “behind the scenes” look at how the park cares for some of its animals and get a look at some areas that guests wouldn’t see otherwise. Overall it was a really neat experience that offered a lot for anybody who loves animals in general and elephants in particular, and it was something a bit different to do while at Animal Kingdom.

IMG_3883

I’m wrapping this up with another pic of baby Stella. Just because she’s the cutest thing ever, and what better way to end a post?

 

Posted in Trip Advice/Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment