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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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