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.
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.
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.”
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?
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?
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 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.
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.
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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