On Monday, the Los Angeles Times ran a story that made every classicist’s blood run cold: Disney is revamping — again — the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. This time, forget about exorcising lusty pirates. Now it’s all about making the ride, sigh, more like the movie. Yeah, wrapped up in politically correct phrases about updating the ride is the key message: more Johnny Depp. It’s a bit like back-handed convergence.
You know, I can almost support this kind of modernization. I mean, regular park visitors deserve a little surprise, even though regular park visitors thrive on the familiarity of the rides. But just like misguided attempt to rewrite pirate history — yeah, sure, the pirates invaded the town and chased the wenches because they were hungry — this smacks of corporate decision-making instead of end-user love and care. The storyline has changed and the pirates’ booty has more, sigh, bling.
You know when Disney executives use the word bling, things have gone too far.
“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” grumbled fan Candy Richter, 39, who grew up riding Pirates of the Caribbean. “I think it’s really lamentable when society feels that they need to go back and adjust their pop culture icons to fit whatever new spawns out. I don’t think people are going in Haunted Mansion and wondering where the Eddie Murphy character is.”
Disneyland has always been about whitewashing the bad from the world, and I do not doubt that a generation from now, the new Pirates ride will be as beloved as the long-forgotten old Pirates ride. As I read the article, I was thinking, “What if this movie fails? What if, for some crazy reason, nobody wants to see the sequel?”
It probably won’t happen. Not even lousy reviews will keep the audience away. As to whether they fill the theaters week after week, that’s another issue entirely. Disney is certainly trying to build buzz for this movie — again with a slightly dubious approach.
Yes, Disney has been to MySpace. Not the MySpace where the kids — and controversy — hang out. No,
“We would never be on a personal profile,” says Jack Pan, vice president of marketing at Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures. “We want to be in the official areas.”
The Wall Street Journal looks at the trend of corporate advertising on MySpace, both noting how companies like Disney are using “safe” areas to advertise while the bulk of the users are hanging out on the bad side of town. For those who haven’t been paying attention to the Web 2.0 mantras, authenticity is important, and the moment advertisers come down like corporate dweebs, MySpace users will take what they can get (mostly winnings from contests) while discarding the message.
There is something both brazen and pathetic about films like X-Men III: The Last Stand and Pirates begging for links on MySpace — “I’ll give you this shiny toy if you’ll be my friend…” While the X-Men ended up going to the prom, so far Jack Sparrow is still hanging with the chess club. Whether or not safe advertising will attract ticket-buying teenagers is a question that won’t be answered with a single film.
I can understand Disney’s discomfort with some of the dark alleys of MySpace — I think we’re going to have a lot of embarrassed job seekers in the coming decade — but I’d remind Disney that they’re marketing to a jaded crowd. Throwing up a “safe” page and thinking you’ve reached your target audience isn’t going to cut it anymore.
When you have a movie about pirates, it’s time to think more about pillaging, less about chasing trays of food.