A couple of weeks ago, I got back from Disneyland Paris. I haven’t been since June 2016 so this was my first trip since the 2017 renovation of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. Before the 2016 trip, I’d only been on the attraction once, an experience I remember nothing of other than that I was really confused about where Jack Sparrow was (In my defence, I was 7). However, when I went back on the attraction in 2016, I was surprised by how good it was. I’m not generally a thrill ride/scary ride person and PotC was just about at my limit so for most of the queue and the first section of the ride, I was uncomfortable at best. However, I ended up loving the ride. Only when I went home and found out more about the ride did I realise what a state it was in which, when combined with the videos I watched of Shanghai’s version of the attraction, made me VERY excited for the renovation of the attraction to see what they would do with my new second favourite attraction,
This trip, going back on Pirates was very high up on my to-do list. We managed to get on it mid-afternoon on our first day; I was excited from the moment I was slapped in the face by the bromine smell. However, I came off of the ride disappointed. There are a plethora of reasons why this is – this is the first trip where we have sought an access pass for my brother and the queue for Pirates was always longer than he could manage. This resulted in us going through the disability entrance (Through the exit, for those who don’t know) which completely bypasses the main queue – the fact that we weren’t primed atmospherically for the ride by the queue may have contributed to me not engaging with the ride as much as I had previously. Also, it may be that the reason I enjoyed it so much on the previous trip was because of the adrenaline rush I got from it (My threshold for an adrenaline rush is very low. Don’t judge me) but this trip, I discovered how f***ing incredible Star Tours is, a ride which gave me a much larger rush, resulting in the raising of my threshold, meaning that Pirates no longer crosses that line. It may have just been that my expectations were too high. However, I think that the reason that I didn’t really enjoy Pirates was that some of the additions that occurred as a result of the renovation have majorly detracted from its quality by causing it to lose any real sense of story.
For the record, I think that some of the changes are massively beneficial or at least neutral in terms of effect. The new scene with Red is fantastic and I quite like the first Jack Sparrow animatronic (The one in the barrel). Plus, the general upkeep of the attraction has massively improved it – you are no longer looking round at a room where there clearly used to be animatronics but these have been stolen by the pirates that are now mysteriously stationary. In general, the main sequence of the ride (From after the lift hill to before the second drop) has really benefitted from the renovation. Despite this, the start and the end of the attraction have, in my opinion been ruined as they are now contradicting each other.
There is an argument to be made for the smoke screen with Blackbeard/Davy Jones on the first lift hill – it’s an exceptionally dark version of the classic ‘Once upon a time’ trope; you’re about to be told the story, it’s just a story that dead men tell. It’s a perfectly fine introduction and would have worked quite well with the attraction if the final scene had been left as it was.
I watched a POV video of PotC on the day it reopened from its renovation and was stunned by the Barbossa animatronic – it seemed reminiscent of the first Jack Sparrow animatronic in the Shanghai Pirates and I was really looking forward to seeing it in person. However, unlike Shanghai’s Jack Sparrow animatronic which still perplexes me, it was relatively easy to guess how they’d done the Barbossa animatronic, detracting from its appeal, despite the lifelike movements. This combined with the, albeit impressively realistic, Jack on a rocking chair animatronic on top of the pile of treasure, in my opinion, completely undoes the whole ‘We’re being told stories from dead men’ idea. Why is Jack even there? (I appreciate that you could argue that Barbossa isn’t truly alive but he isn’t really dead either). Before they were there, the ride made sense – the final scene hit home the general ‘moral’ of the ride – ‘You can’t take it with you’ – a message that can no longer be conveyed as Jack seems to be doing just fine. Basically, the final scene doesn’t fit with the rest of the ride (To quote the movie ‘The Big Short’, “It’s like 2 + 2 = Fish”), making the plot feel weak and disjointed because there’s no continuity to it. Yes, before the renovation, the final scene was confusing but, upon further research (May I suggest the Magical Disneyland Paris podcast episode on it?), it fits. Now, the final scene is both confusing and completely out of the blue plotwise. Essentially, despite the massive improvements in technology, the ride is, in my opinion at least, a less enjoyable experience.
This is a real shame because in the cases of many of the other attractions that have been a part of the Experience Enhancement Plan for Disneyland Paris as part of the 25th Anniversary have become much more enjoyable experiences – look at Peter Pan’s Flight for instance, a ride which prior to the renovation was incredibly jerky, squeaky at times and very, very dark as a result of most of the bulbs being blown. Before this trip, me and my family never really went on Peter Pan’s Flight for that reason. However, this trip we went on it multiple times – everything is well lit and yeah, it’s still jerky but you don’t notice because it’s so fricking magical. The improvements in technology have been used to further the storytelling, to make it a more enjoyable experience for all by increasing people’s engagement with the ride. This is what the renovation of Pirates of the Caribbean got so wrong. Rather than respecting the existing plot line of the attraction and using new technology to improve how the story is told or doing a ‘Star Tours’ and completely changing the story (Something that I think could also have worked if executed properly), the technology and the IP have been shoved in haphazardly. I get why they’ve done it – the addition of Captain Jack was mentioned a lot in the promotional material for the 25th anniversary and as I’ve said, even the animatronics that I don’t like the placement of are very impressive. I just wish that the ones in the final grotto scene had been put in different places. I don’t subscribe to the notion that classic attractions such as Pirates should never be changed simply because they’re classics – they have to “keep moving forward”, to quote Walt Disney himself. I just don’t think that this should be at the expense of the existing good things about a ride. I think this is perfectly expressed by a quote from Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
Pirates of the Caribbean is not a bad attraction. Right up until the final scene, it holds up perfectly well and is in many ways, an improvement on the original. However, in my opinion, the story has been compromised for the sake of a couple of great looking animatronics. Because storytelling is the most important thing about an attraction, I believe that this is quite a big issue.
Attractions Magazine (2015) POV Ride on Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland Paris. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2f-4hHB85g (Accessed: 27 July 2018).
BBC World Service (No date) Sir Isaac Newton. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/movingwords/shortlist/newton.shtml (Accessed: 27 July 2018).
The Big Short (2015) Directed by Adam McKay. USA: Regency Enterprises, Plan B Entertainment.
Dedicated to Disneyland Paris (2017) Disneyland Paris 25th Anniversary Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – Refurbished and Improved. [Online] Available at: http://dedicatedtodlp.com/2017/08/06/disneyland-paris-25th-anniversary-review-pirates-of-the-caribbean-updated-for-2017/ (Accessed: 27 July 2018).
Disneyland Paris (2015) Re-Imaginging Disneyland Paris Magic. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq8g8gYQ_Tk (Accessed: 27 July 2018).
The DLP Geek (2018) Why Phantom Manor’s Story Must Remain Untouched and Unchanged. [Online] Available at: http://thedlpgeek.com/why-phantom-manors-story-must-remain-untouched-and-unchanged/ (Accessed: 27 July 2018).
DLP Welcome (2017) [4K – Low Light] Pirates of the Caribbean – Disneyland Paris – 2017. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKCa2n3MaJw (Accessed: 27 July 2018).
Magical Disneyland Paris (2014) Episode 4: Pirates of the Caribbean. 22 December 2014 [Podcast] Available at: http://www.magicaldlp.co.uk/magical-disneyland-paris-podcast-episode-4-pirates-of-the-caribbean/ (Accessed: 27 July 2018).
Meet the Robinsons (2007) Directed by Stephen Anderson. USA: Walt Disney Animation Studios.