Mermaids and Bears, oh my!

Last week, Disney World quietly unveiled two quiet new changes in the Magic Kingdom, The Country Bear Jamboree reopened after a several-week refurbishment, and Pirates of the Caribbean debuted a new effect after a one-night changeover. I look at both changes here, and express a few reservations about one of them in particular. Mermaids and Bears, oh my!

By the way, this all took place amid the glitz and glitter of the Storybook Circus and New Fantasyland previews (which have gone dark again now that official “preview slots” have arrived for Cast Members, DVC, D23, and annual passholders. Look for the land to stay shut to the public until the official opening on December 6).

Tales of Tails

Let’s start at Pirates, where they have added an element long rumored online to be coming—mermaids. Specifically, there is now a disturbance in the water on either side of the boat right after the mist waterfall near the beginning of the ride. We see a bed of tiny bubbles (it stays turned on), and every few moments, a projection of a mermaid swimming underwater is shined on it from above. It looks more realistic than perhaps you’re thinking. We also saw a physical effect in the form of a device flipping water around at just the right moment, as if the mermaid’s tail/fluke had kicked up water.

On the beach around the corner, a new skeleton has shown up. Next to the high-profile standing skeleton (the one with a seagull in its head) is a boat, and on the boat is a mermaid skeleton, as clearly identified by the strange bone structure.

Dead mermaids tell no tales?

What’s impossible to photograph, though, is the altered mood of this attraction. Until last week, there was music in the first scene, courtesy of the wistful, mournful “Yo Ho” as if sung by the girl version of Keira Knightley’s character. On the mist waterfall would then alternate images of Blackbeard and Davy Jones.

Gone is Davy Jones – now it’s just Blackbeard who shows up each time on the mist screen – and the music has gone so soft and subtle, you almost can’t hear it. That’s to free up audio in the zone after the waterfall for the mermaid’s song, which is even more haunting and creepy than the “Yo Ho” hummed tune.

I’m not sure why a mermaid needs a boat, but it looks good.

The overall effect is to make the entire top portion of the ride—everything before the waterfall down to the fort battle—into an eerie and menacing place. That was always true, sort of, but it’s just a touch more melancholy and unsettling now. The very tone of the ride has shifted, and I think on balance that’s a good thing. And as you all have probably noted, it keys into the fourth movie’s storyline, and very likely points the way as to what may be the focus of the fifth film’s plot,

Bear-ly back…

It’s less clear that the change to the Country Bears was a good thing. The show, you see, is several minutes shorter now. They have unceremoniously dumped much of the banter and witticisms between characters, as well as a couple of songs, so the show largely consists now of one song after another, often with no introduction whatsoever by our host bear, Henry. One song ends, the curtain draws, and another one starts up on the other side. It’s kind of bizarre to those of us who know the show well.

And that’s the rub. I’m not sure most of the visiting public DOES know the show well. I’m unconvinced they will even feel that anything has shifted. Certainly in my two viewings of it, I saw the audience as engaged as ever, and no one happened to say anything disparaging in earshot afterward.

If that’s true, Disney has effectively crammed more riders/viewers per hour into the ride. On a given day, they can now squeeze in more performances than was a true a week ago, so the total counts will go up. And if there is no fallout from guests, that will be viewed as a win.

I think the toupee is new on Liver Lips McGrowl.

In fact, some guests might find that they like the show better without being able to put a finger on why. The jokes were corny and in some cases almost uncomfortable. The show was also quite un-politically-correct previously. Buff makes a fat joke at hefty bear Trixie in the old show, but now, Buff is completely silent. All of the heads on the wall are; they just nod along in unison to the song, as if enjoying it, and no one ribs Trixie at all. Was the set of changes to the show motivated by political correctness?

Could be. They took out the Devilish Mary song, which included the lyrics “rings on my ding ding.” I know that’s not the lyrics as written, but it’s what was on Disney’s own assistive device. But they didn’t take out the suggestion that poor Buford be shot. And Henry still pants that he’s going to pay “Swinging Teddi Barra” (a joke about switching partners) a visit as soon as he can find a ladder. So it’s a mixed bag.

What’s not mixed are the improvements. It looked to me like the bears received a major upgrade to their programming. Or had their actuators cleaned or something. They moved fluidly, cleanly, and without herky-jerky action. They looked new. Actually, they looked like something you’d expect from the Oriental Land Company in TDL.

Gomer’s fur is a lot more purple than I remember.

And their fur! Everything sparkled, so they must have re-skinned everyone. Most had fur of a slightly different color. I’m not sure if this was artistic license or an indication that things were awfully dirty last week, but either way, it looks fresh. I can tell that some of the costumes/outfits were slightly different.

The proof in the pudding, at least for me, came from my own boys (9 and 5 years old). Each had been bored with the old show, but each liked the new one. They couldn’t say why exactly, but it was less so. That matches my own assessment: with no jokes and banter, the show just zips right along. It’s like the ADHD version of the Country Bears Jamboree, and for my own next-generation fans sitting next to me on the bench, it worked better. I suspect that will be the overall guest experience as well, though some of us old-timers will lament the stuff that’s gone.

This outfit is definitely new for Terrence the Shaker.

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  • Ok, I’ll admit that I like the new mermaids in Pirates. Though, they should have found a way to work in an instrumental version of Yo Ho.

    I’m not as sold on the Country Bears. I like that it moves along better, but think it’s poorly edited. It feels like a clip show to me. Here’s our video for folks who haven’t seen it:

  • FigmentJedi

    When they added Blackbeard, they replaced Jones outright. No taking turns like there is at Disneyland.

    • I think that they made the decision to align with Pirates 4. So old captain squid face had to go. It really makes more sense to have a concise storyline than a confused one. I can’t believe that I’m hearing myself defend all these changes. I expected to hate them. Oh well, I like it. I’m glad the tone is darker. I like the mermaid skeleton. And since the Florida version of the ride has always been the weakest, it makes sense to tinker with this version and give it a little something extra. I do think there would be more outrage if it were the Disneyland version which got the changes.

  • ttintagel

    I always thought Buff’s comments about Trixie’s figure sounded kind of appreciative, in a sort of Sir Mixalot way.

  • Bill

    Actually, Kevin missed a couple of things.

    First, In Florida, the waterfall images never alternated between Davy and Blackbeard. It’s always been one or the other. The second thing that Kevin missed… It’s not that he’s wrong really, it’s just he missed out covering the single biggest change to the beginning of Pirates ever. Now that there are mermaids in the water, the waterfalls have been shut off for good in the first scene. He also failed to mention the new skull rock formation near the beach.

  • jcruise86

    Picky, I know, but shouldn’t the mermaid skeleton be about 18″ shorter on the tail end?

    Thanks, Kevin!

  • wdwprince

    I don’t think the mermaid needed the boat. Judging from her hands being cuffed above her head (and her skeleton) I’d guess that she was captured by Pirates of the Caribbean.

    • EpTxGuy

      I don’t see any cuffs, but judging from the fishing net that she’s on, I assumed that she was captured by Pirates of the Caribbean.

      As far as CBJ, I’d rather see an abridged version of it than have it removed entirely. But of course I would prefer to have the original intact.

  • SpectroMan

    The original CBJ’s script was actually a little clunky in itself. I’d prefer all the original jokes be kept, but there was way too much dead space there.

    Granted, this whole thing could have been solved by popping in the Vacation Hoedown show AS IS…but no…

    • GreatAndoski

      Agreed! The Vacation Hoedown show that ran for years at Disneyland was much livelier, and I’d argue better. I think that would breathe new life into things more than just trimming down the old show. Besides, it could actually be marketed as a completely new show.

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  • Fukai

    The stripping away of all the character moments and two songs from the Country Bear Jamboree is a desecration. Shame on WDI.

  • gboiler1

    I remember standing in line close to two hours in December of 1971 to see the Bears. We loved the talking heads on the wall most, so sorry to hear some of that banter is gone. I have to admit the old show was a bit long in the tooth for me.
    I also recall seeing the Bears at Disneyland when they had what must have been a summer overlay with what I recall as 60’s songs and summer clothing. I remember the Beach Boys specifically. I would really like to see Florida do some of the overlays, but understand the reasoning behing it not being done in some cases.

  • GrumpyFan

    I’ve been watching and anticipating the addition of the mermaid(s) at POTC, and look forward to seeing it in person on my next trip. However, something struck me as out of place while reading this. At the beginning of the ride as you enter the caves, Blackbeard appears in the fog/mist screen warning you. Since all of the other additions of Jack and Barbosa to the attraction, and now with the addition of the mermaids, I think it might be more fitting to replace Blackbeard (of the mist) with Barbosa giving a shortened version of his speech from the fourth movie. In it he warns,
    “Aye. Mermaids. Sea ghouls, devilfish…dreadful in hunger for flesh of man. Mermaid waters, that be our path. Cling to your soul, Gibbs, as mermaids be given to take the rest, to the bone. Nay! Gentlemen. I should not ask any more of a man than what that man can deliver, but I do ask this: are we not King’s men? On the King’s mission? I did not note any fear in the eyes of the Spanish as they passed us by. ARE WE NOT KING’S MEN? Aye! Hands aloft, and bear away! Stave on ahead to Whitecap Bay!”
    Now THAT would be awesome!

    • Astute observation. You are absolutely correct and that would be the PERFECT line to put in the ride. Though perhaps just this much of it:

      “Aye. Mermaids. Sea ghouls, devilfish…dreadful in hunger for flesh of man. Mermaid waters, that be our path. Cling to your soul, as mermaids be given to take the rest, to the bone.”

  • MiceChat Staff

    While I am still unsure of either change at the moment, I am eager to go check them out. Thanks Kevin!

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  • danyoung

    I’m looking forward to seeing the changes for myself in a few weeks. I’m not sure I ever took the “swinging” part of Swinging Teddi Barra to mean that she was a partner swapper. She’s sitting on a swing, fer cryin’ out loud. Can’t some stuff just be what it is without the double entendre?

    Anyway, thanks as always for the update, Kevin!

  • Aotphks

    Mr. Yee wrote, “What’s not mixed are the improvements. It looked to me like the bears received a major upgrade to their programming. Or had their actuators cleaned or something. They moved fluidly, cleanly, and without herky-jerky action. They looked new. Actually, they looked like something you’d expect from the Oriental Land Company in TDL.”.

    Now that would be a welcomed hostile takeover of the Walt Disney Company.

  • C. Andrew Nelson

    Good gosh! They hacked the heck out of the Country Bear Jamboree! That’s a terrible editing job. The pacing is atrocious now. The new breakneck speed is like listening to musical notes without any rests. It’s the well placed rests that make music wonderful. Without rests the notes are just sounds. And with this new edit of CBJ this isn’t much better then a jukebox hooked up to animated figures. If I want that I can go to Chuck E. Cheese!

    I’ve been saying for years that a better way of improving this show is to record additional songs and addition jokes & dialogue, and then use randomizers to make it a virtually different show every time you see it. Star Tours 2.0 has about 54 different possible combinations. Why couldn’t an audio-animatronic theater show do the same? That would keep it fresh and interesting.

    • GrumpyFan

      Indeed! Great idea, and theoretically it could be done, but would like require a complete overhaul of how the shows work on the back-end with their show control. But, it would definitely make for a better show with the possibility for more repeats.

  • Awe_inspired

    CBJ has always had a special place in my heart. I remember, as a child, when I first noticed the “claw marks” on the floor. It made things so real and fantastical. As a kid, I had the album, and though I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, I would play it and cry during “Come Again.”
    I was in the theater for the last performance of CBJ in Disneyland. THAT experience was utterly fantastic. I’m really, really happy that CBJ will continue to be enjoyed for years to come.