Saturday, 5 August 2017

Post-Mortem on Pirates and the New Rivers of America

While Ashley and I were off on our own vacation the last few weeks, traversing the vast Canadian prairies to visit her family in Manitoba and seeking out every museum and heritage site along the way, a tonne of Disney Parks news broke. Most significantly, the altered Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland Paris re-opened and Fantasmic, the Rivers of America, and the Disneyland Railroad returned to Disneyland U.S.A. Having written articles on little more than the Disney Parks Blog posts about Pirates of the Caribbean and the Rivers of America, it seems worthwhile to revisit the subjects now that the finished products have debuted.

First the bad: Pirates of the Caribbean somehow came out worse than we could have possibly conceived. While I was resignedly nonplussed, Ashley was actually livid at the changes supposedly wrought for her benefit as a woman of delicate constitution, as all women evidently are. 

The issue was, of course, that the original auction scene depicted female victimization in a transgressively humourous manner. In the dynamic of the scene as conceived by Marc Davis, the ladies of the town were being rounded up for sale to rowdy, raunchy pirates, the terror offset by the manner in which each woman reacts to the spectacle. The focal points were the larger woman on the docket at the moment and the infamous redhead. The larger woman seems, if not excited by the prospect of being auctioned off, at least passingly optimistic at getting a husband. The redhead upstaging her, on the other hand, has used her sexual prowess to take control of the situation. Undoubtedly a woman of ill repute herself, the cries of "we wants the redhead" have duly informed her that each man at the auction is, in reality, wrapped around her finger. The quiet smirk on her face tells us so. Without having to say a word, she is the most empowered figure in this tableaux.

Now... now she is not. Ironically, the attempt to conventionally empower her by making her a pirate and giving her lots of weapons has reduced her to voicelessness. In the auction for the loot of the villagers, which the pirates are inexplicably supposed to be bidding for instead of, y'know, stealing, the redhead is reduced to a mere armed guard. The pirates still cry (en fran├žais) that they wants the redhead, but without the charged and transgressive sexuality of the original scene - a dynamic space where sexual roles are inverting and nothing is quite as it seems at first glance - the redhead is merely smiling vacantly at sexual harassment. She doesn't even say a word in her own defense; the auctioneer speaks for her. She is reduced to an empty, expressionless, voiceless, vacuous non-entity. Rather than empowered, she's now a prop. This colourful, adjective-laden description still failed to capture the full depth of Ashley's outrage, mind you ("It's not that you didn't try," she adds).

Disneyland Paris also threw an awkwardly cackling Barbossa animatronic as the new focal point of the skeleton at the helm scene... the skeleton at the helm scene... because you might as well wreck two iconic scenes for the price of one. All that's left is to figure out how to neuter the prison scene, which I imagine Imagineering is thinking hard about as we speak. 

New Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland Paris. Video: DLP Welcome.

From the bad to the middling: a newly restructured Fantasmic returned to the Rivers of America waterfront to mixed results. While the basic storyline remains the same, new video projection mapping effects and set pieces have altered its tone considerably. It is certainly epic in scale, much bigger, grander, more spectacular, and infinitely more manic. Pacing has essentially disappeared in a visual and auditory assault. That's not necessarily bad though, it just is. It's a smaller price to pay for the marvelous application of more recent technology that that originally designed for the show. 

More questionable is the appearance of a costumed Sorcerer Mickey earlier on in the show and the loss of the Evil Queen's transformation. These are subtle changes that undermine the drama in subtle ways. The premature appearance of Sorcerer Mickey dilutes his climactic appearance at the end of the original show. Writing out the Evil Queen's transformation not only loses a cool scene, but the new transition gives this disquieting impression that the Disney Villains are just a manifestation of Mickey's dark subconscious. There was more drama implicit to the idea that Mickey was fighting off the Villains' attempt to take over his mind. 

Worst, of course, was changing out the Peter Pan sequence for Pirates of the Caribbean. I'm really, really just over Pirates of the Caribbean at this point. Four of the five movies are awful, the original rides have been irredeemably ruined, and its spreading out its tendrils to wreck everything around it too, starting with Tom Sawyer Island and now Fantasmic. Peter Pan was tonally excellent material for Fantasmic, as a colourful classic fairy tale with charismatic characters in Peter, Hook, Wendy, Smee, and the Crocodile. Now it's just more bloody Jack Sparrow.

The new Fantasmic. Video: Attractions 360.

Okay, with that out of my system, on to the good: the new Rivers of America backwaters and DLRR route came out surprisingly well. I had originally expressed that I wasn't particularly offended to begin with, partly as resignation to changes I can't do anything about and relief that at least they didn't get rid of the Rivers of America completely. The peaks aren't as towering behind the train as they maybe should be, but I'm sure the whole thing will look better once the trees grow in and the cliffs of "Galaxy's Edge" rise up behind it. I do wonder about the seeming wide-open spaces behind Big Thunder Mountain though... Those would have been the perfect places to add in some homages to Nature's Wonderland, or even a family of backwoods bears having a little jamboree. 

Surprising to me were the new effects for the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas. Video projection mapping was put to use again to animate the painted backdrops, adding shafts of sunlight, thunderstorms, luminous sunsets, and volcanic explosions. This is exemplary "plussing," where the experience of a vintage attraction was actually improved by new technologies and ideas instead of needlessly fussed with and diminished. Kudos to Imagineering for that.

    A ride on the DLRR. Video: Inside the Magic.

Once again, Imagineering's uneven track record manifests itself. Some changes are really quite good, some are more hideous than we could even anticipate. That's about it. I'm not confident that I have any grand pronouncements to make about it in conclusion. It is what it is. At least Imagineering's wholesale abandonment of California Adventure to "Disney's Universal Studios" makes the choice to not go there anymore that much easier! That's a... plus?

1 comment:

  1. I am still of the opinion that we have reached the point where the original auction scene is no longer acceptable, but it sounds like they just made it *worse*. WTF, Disney?

    I'm slightly dreading the new Fantasmic!, as the original story was basically the perfect crossover. It's never sat well with me when Disney puts live-action characters and animated characters on the same "plane" as it were, and I can't even articulate why. (There are exceptions--Mary Poppins can pal around with Toons, because she just can.)

    I am very much looking forward to the new train route. I've been studiously avoiding videos of it because I want my first impressions to be live and in-person.

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