When my siblings were youngish and my parents still married, we’d have a family vacation nearly every summer near the Magic Kingdom. We’d leave San Jose while the morning was still dark and we’d drive through the California’s Central Valley while the heat and the light came up. My dad had a friend in Anaheim, California; the kids were close to us in age. A day or two later, we’d all be in Disneyland, begging to see the same things — The Haunted House, The Enchanted Tiki Room, and of course the Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course. Every time.
“I’ve tried to analyze what is happening in that ride,” says Tony Baxter, a former senior executive at Walt Disney Imagineering and now a creative consultant for the division. “Is it a book report of some movie? I think it’s more metaphorical to falling asleep and having this incredible dream-like experience.”
Years later, my brother and I went with two of his friends from Sweden, towering boys who we insisted wear mouse ears the whole time, including when our tiny Honda Civic crapped out somewhere near Tracy, California. The local sheriff did not like the looks of us, not one bit, but we couldn’t stop laughing at his suspicion. Two nostalgic California 20-somethings and two harmless foreign visitors; I’m sure we were singing “A pirate’s life for me…” for much of the drive.
“If you go back, the amusement business didn’t tell stories,” former Imagineering chief Marty Sklar says of theme parks before Disneyland.
“They were just thrill rides. Walt [Disney] changed that by creating stories. That’s the basis of everything that Imagineering does. When I talk to Imagineers, I always say I’m jealous because they have so many new technologies, but you have to have a good story or else you’re wasting your time.”
Disney is tangled throughout my early childhood memories, and somewhere in my house there are mouse ears with my name in looping script on the back.
The black felt has lost much of its integrity over time. The Disney-Industrial Complex has no place for decay, though.
There also will be a spotlight on Pirates of the Caribbean, which even in its middle age is serving as a microcosm for Disney’s need to adapt to generational shifts. Those who are resistant to change will no doubt have strong opinions about the recent announcement that the bridal auction scene in Pirates will be modified at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris; by the end of next year, looted trinkets, not women, will be on the block.
Those fans who object can console themselves with the knowledge that the red-headed woman, who currently seems to approach her precarious position with a bit of a femme fatale attitude, will be staying.
Related: Podcast The Memory Palace has an excellent episode up about the day the Yippies “invaded” Disneyland. Listen here.