Pirates of the Caribbean: A 50 Year History of Reflecting Modern Culture

The most recent changes to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride have caused quite a stir among many loyal Disney fans. The recent re-imagining of the redhead’s role from bride for sale to auctioneering pirate has fired a debate over whether or not Disney made the right move with these changes. In the fierce political climate in America, this debate has found itself being wedged within a back and forth over political correctness along with Disney’s goals of being a family oriented theme park.

This isn’t the first time that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride has undergone changes to stay relevant and adapt to the most recent popular culture trends. Interestingly enough, Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the only rides in the Disneyland Resort to receive such a great number of updates over the years. Pirates of the Caribbean embodies the evolving nature of the parks and the history the Disneyland Resort has of remaining relevant with modern culture trends. Here’s a look back at all the changes the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction has seen over the years.

Boat passing through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland

The Beginning

Pirates of the Caribbean made its debut in the Disneyland Resort on March 18, 1967. Originally, the ride was first imagined as a walk through wax museum underneath New Orleans Square. But with the popularity of the boat ride attraction realized, thanks to it’s a small world, the ride was redesigned into a boat ride with over 120 audio-animatronics.

It was the last attraction that Walt Disney himself oversaw and worked on before his death in December of 1966. To help give Walt a preview of the ride experience Imagineers rigged up a chair to a dolly and pushed him through the attraction at the same speed as a boat. Unfortunately, Walt didn’t get a chance to see the finished product as he died during final stages of construction.

The famous Blue Bayou also opened on March 18, 1967 and is credited as one of the first theme restaurants. Originally, the vision for the Blue Bayou experience was much more rambunctious with plans to include rowdy pirates to entertain the guests. But after Walt saw this experience in a dress rehearsal he told his crew, “in this restaurant, the food is going to be the show, along with the atmosphere.”

When Pirates of the Caribbean opened, Disney’s knack for creative special effects were a bit too good for the Anaheim Fire Department. Because the flames looked so realistic, the Anaheim Fire Department insisted Disney have an automatic shutoff for the attraction in case a real fire ever occurred.

This attraction is full of rich details rooted in Disney history that park goers still watch for today. One of these details is the initials of “WD” and “RD” in the ironwork on the balcony of the building to represent Walt and Roy. Make sure to look up to catch this detail before entering the building. Another cool detail to watch out for is the inclusion of one of the featured pirate names within the attraction itself. When you get to the dock to board your boat, look up to to see a sign that says “Laffite’s Landing.” Laffite was a pirate with American historical roots who gave assistance to Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans. Another detail, while never confirmed as true by Disney, is that the ride includes a real human skull. You can spot this infamous skull on the headboard of the skeleton pirate draped in his riches at the beginning of the ride.

Johnny Depp staring at his attraction rendering of Jack Sparrow

A History of Reflecting Modern Culture

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is one of Disneyland’s most historic and classic dark rides in the park. Due to this long 50 year history, each change made to accommodate shifts in modern culture brings scrutiny from beloved fans. The most recent change of the Red-Haired Woman to Red-Haired Pirate has certainly sparked discussion but this is not the first time that Disney has made changes to the iconic attraction.

The first change didn’t come about until the 1990’s when park guests began questioning the attraction’s displays of lewd behavior of the pirates towards the village women. The most scrutinized being the scenes of pirates chasing women throughout the town and a leering pirate searching for a woman who hid in terror in a nearby barrel. While these displays certainly paint an accurate visual of some of the dark history of pirating violence and exploitation of women, many guests questioned how appropriate this display was for a family theme park. This is when the Pirates of the Caribbean ride underwent its first change to fit in with the expectations of the culture at the time. The prize of the pirates chase was changed from women to food. The pirate that once chased a woman was revamped to depict a woman chasing a pirate with a stolen pie. It was decided that a hungry pirate was much more fitting than a handsy pirate for this family friendly attraction.

The next major renovation of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction wouldn’t be until 2006 after the release of the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The release of this film, based upon this popular attraction, brought a series of memorable characters that Disney decided should be incorporated into the ride. Disney carefully planned this remodeling to line up with the release of the second Pirates film as they made the move to include Jack Sparrow, Davy Jones, and Captain Barbossa as characters in the attraction. Now the presence of the Pirates of the Caribbean films are fairly prominent in New Orleans Square with Jack Sparrow himself wandering around to meet guests along with a Pirates of the Caribbean themed scene on the pirate ship during Fantasmic!

And this brings us to Disney’s most recent change to remove the last remaining visuals of pirating exploitation towards women: the removal of the bride auction scene. Originally, the scene showcased women lined up for auction underneath a banner that read “Auction: Take a wench for a bride”- this scene is most notable for the red-haired voluptuous woman showcased in the auction among chants of “We wants the red-head!”

Disney made sure to keep her, due to the large popularity of this character, as the main focal point of this change. Now she has been converted from village ‘bride wench’ to wild pirate lady leading an auction of stolen goods rather than women. This change, not surprisingly so, has sparked a huge debate among park guests. For some, the change was seen as a welcome one to remove all last bits of exploitation of women from this attraction that made light of the real violence women experience. For others, this change depicts a culture’s shift to political correctness of history and a failure to take a joke as a joke in one Disney’s most historical dark attractions.

Regardless of park guests opinion, the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride is here to stay and Disney has worked hard to help guests bond with this new vision of the red-haired woman. She has been transformed into a wandering character and guests can now look forward to meeting this wild pirate addition in New Orleans Square.

Close up visual of red haired pirate

Disney’s Awareness of Pop Culture

Disney has a long history of being aware of popular culture trends and making moves to remain relevant to those trends. While change can be hard for park guests to embrace, with years of nostalgia for many, it is a large part of Disneyland’s history.

One recent example of this is Disney’s constant awareness of the growing trends in technology. From the revamping of the digital Fastpass to MaxPass to the new Disney Play App, the parks will continue making moves to remain relevant to modern culture trends.

As social media has become so central to the lives of many park guests Disney has worked hard to appeal to those Instagram loving fans. The new Pixar Pier is a great example of that with Disney themselves promoting all the “Instagram-Worthy” photo spots available at this new pier. You can even see this change reflected in the food for Pixar Fest with bright colored drinks and aesthetically pleasing appetizers at the Lamplight Lounge that are all perfectly constructed with that Instagram post in mind.

Another example is the redesigning and removal of areas of the park that no longer appeal to the majority of park guests. The removal of Aladdin’s Oasis is a prime example of that, which was a bit heart wrenching for the 90’s Disney fans, but a fitting move for the guests of tomorrow that are more connected to recent Disney films. As things in the park lose their popularity or come under scrutiny, Disney will continue to consider how to make changes that keep the park remaining relevant and attractive to the trends of modern culture. We will continue to see these changes happen in greater strides as the new Star Wars themed land opens in the Summer of 2019.

As Walt Disney himself said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world” 

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12 comments add yours

  1. Fine article…thanks! A couple things caught my attention….

    1) While the human skull may be ‘infamous’ I wouldn’t say the attraction or the Blue Bayou are. 😉 Just the opposite, in fact, wouldn’t you agree?! (sorry for being nit-picky…sorta!)

    2) You mentioned the demise of Aladdin’s Oasis and that is unfortunate but for those of us who grew up with Dland back in the day, the Tahitian Terrace was top notch!! My Dad worked at the Park and we would always go to that restaurant/show and always get seated on the floor where he would ‘unexpectedly’ get picked to dance with the girls. 😉 Such fun!!

    • I ate at the Blue Bayou once and hated it. It was not vegetarian friendly at all. The ride on the other hand has always been a favorite of my family.

  2. Pirates is my sentimental favorite ride. It is the first ride I can actually remember riding when I was just a child. My first visit to Disneyland was in 1969. I still have a full ticket book and a park guide from that trip…Now when our family goes back to the park Pirates is the first ride we must all hit, then we devide and conquer!! Im a kid again as soon as I here the crickets in the Blue Boyue!! Love it..

  3. Gavin, Disney ABSOLUTELY made the right decision with adding Red to Pirates. How smart to keep up with the current culture. HB

  4. I loved the way Pirates was. I was not offended…..political correctness has gone too far. If you can’t distingush between something fake or fiction then you have more of the problem.

  5. I read your article and was completely shocked!! Having just been to the park in February. Pirate’s was as it had alway been. Had no idea a change was coming!! What is disappointing to our family will be the absence of the line from the pirate doing the auction, “ Shift your cargo deary, show’en your larbard side.” We would laugh every time. ?

  6. I don’t think it should have been changed at all. Not every trend needs to be followed. POTC was fine just the way it was.

  7. Walt would be shocked that Disneyland Management would bend to political correctness and change the auction of women by pirates. History cannot be changed and those that were offended by the auction need to deal with it.

  8. What a sad and disappointing change. I hope with all my heart they reconsider this change.

  9. Honestly I love seeing the redhead depicted as a badass pirate lady rather than eye candy for pirates. There were female pirates too! And LOTS of gay pirates, but you don’t see much of that depicted in the ride so if you’re arguing for historical accuracy by including exploitation of women then make sure to throw in a healthy dose of that. Girls today have more to look up to than just princesses. Now they have generals and warriors and pirates. Kudos Disney!

  10. I love the changes. Young girls don’t need to see women being harassed and exploited in a family theme park attraction. Good job Disney! Now if you could make the restaurant more vegetarian friendly I could enjoy that too.

  11. No one needs to see women being harassed and exploited in a family theme park attraction. The changes are great. Good job Disney. Now if they would make the restaurant more vegetarian friendly I could enjoy that too.

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