Lost in the deafening roar of this past week’s Disney press event junkets (which celebrated Test Track with a visit by band One Republic and New Fantasyland with a visit by a nighttime dragon flapping its wings overhead) has been the third offering that also opened last week: a walkthrough in Disney’s Hollywood Studios dedicated to Captain Jack Sparrow. Of the recent WDW additions, this one is the weakest, though it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of its awful Narnia predecessor.

In my head I keep singing “Hear the legend of Thunder Mountain

The soundstage was previously used for two separate Narnia walkthroughs, each more dreadful than the last. The Sparrow replacement could almost not help being better no matter what it tried to do. Thankfully, most of the decisions were good ones, but there are reservations to be had, and limits to how repeatable this attraction is. That might even be by design, actually.

Outside the soundstage, the walls were painted with a splashy 18th-century colored map and the attraction’s logo. I guess I like it that they’ve stopped pretending this is an actual soundstage used for actual moviemaking, and how lucky are we to step foot inside? Might as well go for splashy in that case.

Better than a bare soundstage wall, for sure.

They took out the Mickey Avenue wayfinder signs on the corner here, and added the teeniest, tiniest little beach you could possibly imagine. I kind of like that little beach. It’s easily the sort of thing they could have done without. I romanticize that someone within management said it should be cut, saving $40,000 (or whatever it costs to do that sort of thing), and the creative folks standing firm: “No. This is what I want, and what it needs.”

Will whatever replaces this be a son of a beach?

The rest of the outside looks just like it did when it was Narnia: temporary stanchion poles and a boring switchback. The one exception: now there is actual demand for the setup, with wait times typically 30 or 45 minutes long. I guess having Johnny Depp as the star of the attraction doesn’t hurt much. We did see unused monitors in the queue–I’m guessing remnants from the Narnia days? It was almost a relief that they were turned off.

Once inside the soundstage, we crowd into the first room, which is really just a giant rock wall with a single doorway in it (we’ll pass through that in a minute). It’s time for the pre-show. Above the doorway is a larger-than-actual-life version of the skull and crossbones you saw above the first drop in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride here in Orlando (and still see at Disneyland, where theirs hasn’t been removed). It talks to us by virtue of projections to make it look like its jaw is moving–a reasonably successful illusion. First sign of things to come, though: it asks us to raise our right hands and swear we want to become pirates. Is this some kind of play-along thing?

As Maraka might say, “Don’t Question It! Just Do It!”

Once ushered in, we find a somewhat tight room cluttered with artifacts and props in all directions. To our left and right (and behind/above us) are piles of loot–this is apparently the pirates’ treasure den. Ahead of us is a segment of a sailing ship, and behind that, a screen. On the screen is a giant floating skeleton skull. It took me a while to remember that it’s supposed to be the same skull we see in the Pirates of the Caribbean game at DisneyQuest.

The combination of the skulls from DQ and Johnny Depp from the movies brings a weird kind of unifying energy to the whole PotC project. Now, for the first time ever, the various projects (park ride, DisneyQuest attraction, movies) are linked beyond just sharing the same name. There’s a term for all this “Synergy” – the company mantra, right?

Skeletons on screen, skeletons projected onto the rockwork.

The show started before the last patrons were in the next room (not good) and it had something to do with invading skeletons, which were also projections all over the walls. We, the audience, made the skeletons go away by holding up a physical key some little child in the crowd was given earlier. It’s a bit contrived, shall we say, and unfortunately continues this nonsense about audience interaction. On more than one occasion in this show, we’re told to raise our arms, shout along, that sort of thing. It’s like Dora the Explorer but without the privacy of your own bedroom. Didn’t they learn with the dancing segment of Habit Heroes that people DON’T like to play along?

The kraken attacks.

The skull flits around here and there, and we the audience are witness to an attack by the kraken as well as the singing mermaids. When all of that clears (it’s all somewhat hazy, I admit), we see the Redhead from the park attraction… who is canoodling with Capt Jack. It’s another projection on the deck of the ship, and yes, that is the real Johnny Depp who plays Capt. Jack. The projection system outputs a very-realistic image, and it tries to hover in space as if it’s really there. (Think Christopher Walken in Universal’s Disaster attraction).

Edit: the Redhead doesn’t appear in every show; there is more than one “introduction” to Captain Jack, which is meant to add repeatability to the experience.

We wants the redhead! So it’s only natural that Jack GETS the redhead.

Depp is not just good in this theme park role, he’s great. I liked his character in this presentation better than the film version, in fact. The comedy is quicker, snappier, and more on target–such as when he mocks the inexplicable floating skull that’s talking to him, or invites the audience to come do it all over again in eight minutes.

Sparrow talks to the inexplicable floating skull

We fight Davy Jones’s ship (“I’m going to send you to Davy Jones, Jones!”) as the climax, and then we head out a decidedly non-descript tunnel as the exit. It’s a cute addition to the park, to be sure, and definitely ought to be in your “visit once” list. Whether you visit it two, three, or ten times after that is a question of how big a Depp fan you are (and what your tolerance is for audience-play-along nonsense).

What’s good about all this is that it’s a vast improvement over what was there before. Mind you, it’s no home run, but it’s a welcome addition to DHS, which needs all the help it can get.

Errata: This article was updated after initial publication to correct the name of the band at the press event.

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  • imaginashton

    Great article! I saw a video and it looks much better than the museum that the Narnia attraction was.

    One little nit pick…the band was One Republic not One direction

  • Trumpet

    Thanks Kevin for your opinions.

    I never experienced the narnia (never a fan), but Pirates are more popular that CS Lewis’ books.

    I don’t know about interactivity, but maybe it will please parents with young children.

    Thanks Again for your update


  • I don’t mind “interactive” when it is truly needed. But when they contrive these ways to manipulate me for no good reason, then I’m annoyed. For example, to ask an entire room of people to raise their hands to ward off a villain who is projected on a screen. That’s just stupid. But if one person is selected to pick up a sword or push a button or recite a spell, then it makes sense. I fear that with Disney’s new interactivity mantra, they are just going to turn the parks and queues into giant playgrounds. Great for a 4 year old and not so much fun for the rest of Disney’s audience.

    I’m glad to see them update the Narnia walk-through. It was LONG overdue. Though, if they want to keep their Studios park from being a complete joke, they need to do much more than this one small projection based attraction.

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    Finally, a Pirates of the Carribean attraction that is a walkthrough, as originally envisioned…

    Sounds decend, I’ll definately check it out on my next trip.

    Dusty is right though, this is the weakest Disney park (in North America at least) and is way overdue for an upgrade.

  • Fairy Godmother Travel

    I experienced the walk through last week and enjoyed it so much more than Narnia. I did not mind the interactive parts–some were better than others though.

    The Redhead was not in my show, I wonder if there are a few scenes that rotate?

    • GreatAndoski

      She slaps him a couple times, and the floating skull repeats the lines from the movie about him possibly/definitely deversing it. I actually didin’t make the connection to the redhead in the ride until reading Kevin’s thoughts, I just saw her as an extra.

      • GreatAndoski


  • GreatAndoski

    I think the attraction would be much more compelling with a live actor as host and interacting with the crowd and Jack (just like Walken and Lonnie in Disaster!, or Taylor in Poseidon’s Fury), as opposed to just the floating skull. When the entire show is just projections and sound effects, there’s really nothing motivating the audience interaction (since you know it doesn’t matter if you stomp your feet or not).

    I did think the projection effect that makes the ship “move” was pretty cool, and rather convincing if you’re not watching too closely.

  • DisneySam

    We experienced this on Sunday and the redhead was not in our show either. It must be a rotational thing. Also, I have to mention that the voice actor for Davy Jones is not the same as the actor from the movies and is a very poor imitation at best (in other words it was terrible).

  • mksgrist

    Looking purely at the concept of modern Amusement Technology and the progression of Imagineering concepts…… Before Pirates of the Caribbean was built (1967), Walt considered a Pirate Walk Through (same with the Haunted MAnsion), but dumped the idea for the more technologically advanced and immersive Pirates ride we have today. That was almost 50 years ago. I find it rather alarming that this is only an amped up version of something Walt found unacceptable for his park(s). Are the imagineers so willing to put ANYTHING out there, that they considered a concept that even Walt knew wasn’t going to cut the mustard…. 50 years ago!? Where’s the ol’ Disney Imagination? Seems like a Cop-out to me…. This is more like an antiquated Circus Side-Show.

    • Eric Davis

      I agree 100% with you mksgrist

  • SparkChaser

    You know it’s funny how they billed this as a attraction that would tell the story of Jack Sparrow. All I see is just a recap of the movies?

  • danielz6

    mksgrist….you are Exactly right. That’s why tales with belle is pathetic, Walt never would have approved of these lame attractions. Its depressing that in 50 plus years, Disney still hasn’t superseded the original Pirates of the Caribbean from 1966. It beckons the mind to think what Walt would’ve achieved if he was with us a few more years because clearly he was aiming for epic and completely immersive lands/attractions.

  • Buffett Fan

    I disagree on Belle. If you view Belle as an attraction, you may be disappointed. however, I view it as a plussed Character Meet, and much more enjoyable from a parent’s perspective. Also, Walt did have walk throughs, such as the Monsato Home.

  • danielz6

    I was under the impression that the kids don’t have an opportunity to take pictures with belle or get her autograph? Doesn’t that disqualify it from being a meet and greet?

  • urbanleadership

    Do you think it’s a test for Shanghai Disney? From Alaine Littaye: http://disneyandmore.blogspot.com/2012/11/shanghai-disneyland-update-is-disney.html

  • waymire01

    Not terrible. They really need to extend the screens to the ceiling though, especially for the Kraken.. it’s too big to fit and the cut off at the top was very obvious.

  • darkamor

    I’m not going to tease about “wrong band names” being mentioned (as if I’d give a toss about some generic band playing @ a Disney Theme Park (lol), but its always nice to learn what’s going on @ Walt Disney World’s Theme Parks & this walk through attraction ought to serve as a minor distraction until Team Disney Orlando gets the financial “go head” to do something about Disney Hollywood Studios (thee weakest theme park of the bunch?) ….

    C J