Yo ho, yo ho, a pirates afterlife for me.
Thats probably not what the people who willed their remains to UCLAs Medical Center imagined would be their final repose, but for some, it actually was. Maybe even still is the jury is out on that. But one thing is absolutely certain: When Pirates of the Caribbean opened at Disneyland in 1967, all of the skeletons on the attraction were actual human bones.
The ride was originally envisioned as a walk-through wax museum. Walt Disney rethought that after the runaway success of the 1964 Worlds Fair, where the company debuted audio-animatronic people in the Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Its a Small World, which also debuted at the Worlds Fair, was able to move large numbers of people through quickly on boats, and Walt decided to employ the same technique at Disneyland for its new pirate attraction.
The iconic attractions runaway success and ability to move enormous numbers of guests through the experience motivated Walt to incorporate a similar ride system for Pirates, Arthur Levine wrote for TripSavvy in 2019. Besides, the boats worked well with the theme, and they allowed the story to unfold in a more controlled and linear fashion.
The ride opened just months after Walt Disneys passing, and was the last that he personally oversaw.
Building the ride involved close collaboration between the machine shop, the animatronics team, and the sculpting and wardrobe departments, Cara Giaimo wrote for Atlas Obscura in 2015. The whole thing cost $15 million, about $106 million in today's currency and as much as the rest of the park combined.
One thing the Imagineers couldnt recreate was skeletons. The technology of the time wasnt sophisticated enough to make skeletons that the company felt met their standards of realism. So instead of faking it, the Imagineers went to find the real thing straight to UCLA, where they procured real human skeletons for the ride.
It didnt last forever, though. Giaimo quotes Jason Surrells book Pirates of the Caribbean: From Magic Kingdom to Movies as saying, Eventually, as fake skeleton technology improved, a new generation of Imagineers replaced the real ones, which were later returned to their countries of origin and given a proper burial.
Today, Disneyland says that there are no longer any human remains on the ride, and the internet is rife with accounts from people who have taken VIP tours, which often provide a deep history of the parks. They report that their cast member guide assured them there were no more real skeletons in place.
But some people remain unconvinced. Jason Petros of the "EarzUp!" Disney podcast has a blog post detailing where he believes there are four remaining instances of, well, remains. Two are on the small islands just after the boat drops down to the lower level, one is in the bed chamber mounted on the headboard, and another lies in the jail scene, trapped under a flaming timber. Click through if you want to see some pretty grisly up-close photos.
The bed chamber skull, in particular, seems to have the most speculation around it. A cast member confirmed that it was real, and others have said that that skull in particular, which some believe to be the only actual remaining human bones, was donated by a former Imagineer.
If youre surprised about this chapter of Pirates of the Caribbeans history, well, it gets darker. The original ride had a much more problematic story line, which had kidnapped women being sold in a Bride Auction, with fat-shaming dialogue about purchasing by the pound and other women attempting to look their best as though theyre happy about being sold. Just afterward, a pirate has lost the woman he just bought, who is hiding in a barrel behind him, and is asking his friends for help, using her as the reward. I be willing to share, I be, he says, chuckling.
Even the full lyrics to the song Yo Ho (A Pirates Life for Me) includes the lyrics, We kidnap and ravage and dont give a hoot. While its unclear whether those lyrics have been changed for the current iteration of the ride, theres no moment where that line is clearly comprehensible the way it was in 1967. Much of the overtly misogynistic theming was changed, starting in 1997, according to the Los Angeles Times, and parts of the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean movies storyline were incorporated in 2006, including Jack Sparrow.
A YouTube recreation of the full 1967 ride exists online, with the creator explaining that he made it, so this original version can live on as a historical document and we can have an educated discussion about it. Theres also a parody calling out some of the most cringe-worthy parts of the original ride.
Even Walt had some doubts about the scene, Todd Martens wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2017 of the most recent Pirates reimagining. In that article, Martens quoted original Pirates Imagineer Claude Coats, who was there when Walt Disney first saw the auction scene.
He came in one time and even said, This will be all right, wont it? He was just a little doubtful of auctioning off the girls. Was that quite Disney or not? Coats told the paper.
Although Disney has made many updates over the years to revise its questionable themes, there is one part in the original that actually makes more sense than the modern version. They removed a menacing pirate holding a flaming torch who looks as though hes about to cause some real problems. In the next room, everything is on fire. Including, possibly, one of the last remaining real human skeletons in Disneyland.
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