Welcome to the third installment of Dueling Disney. This time ‘round, we’d like ya’ll to join us for a good ol’ fashioned hoot n’ holler over a little plot of land that can only be reached by crossing the mighty Rivers of America. Fancy a trip with Tom, Becky and Huck? Would you like to explore a Pirate’s lair?
Two islands, one winner, you be the judge . . .
The Battle Over Tom Sawyer Island
Keith: This one is going to be a difficult debate for me, since I have a very negative memory of the island. It is the only place in Disneyland (or anywhere, come to think of it) in which I got separated from my family. I was around 5, and I remember very vividly bawling my eyes out, looking for my mom. A CM found me and gave me some sort of purple slushee drink to make me happy as they tried to locate my parents. It worked, because I stopped crying instantly. Until I dropped the slushee.
Jeff: It’s funny you say that, because I *also* had a very negative experience on Disneyland’s version of Tom Sawyer Island. Back in the summer of 2011, when I was out there working “It’s Kind Of A Cute Story” with Rolly Crump (I will never stop dropping that name), I went exploring on the island. I wound up deep in the caves…and couldn’t find my way out! And of course, no one was around me either…just me all by my lonesome. Now, maybe it was just my mind with the panic attack, but I swear to you, the cave was getting smaller and smaller. Within minutes, I was in a full blown panic. Luckily, I finally made my way out, and got the heck off the island! However, through a sequence of events that started with that panic attack, I wound up meeting Miley Cyrus in Frontierland. True story.
Wait, what were we talking about again?
Keith: Apparently we’re exchanging nightmares we’ve both lived. Still want to tackle this subject, or should we switch to an attraction that hasn’t convinced us we were going to die alone in Disneyland?
Jeff: Provided we don’t have to set foot on the island while we discuss it, we can certainly continue on with this topic!
Keith: Haha, okay. I guess I should start off with a little history. In 1955, the year Disneyland opened, Tom Sawyer Island was there. It was not, however, accessible. The island was unfinished, and no transportation to it had been created. It wasn’t until early 1956 that work finally began on theming the mostly empty island. Its first name, “Mickey Mouse Island,” did not stick. Soon it was renamed “Treasure Island,” but that wouldn’t last either. The Imagineers then realized that the entire area could be themed after the world of author Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer Island opened on July 16, 1956, just one day shy of the park’s 1st birthday.
Jeff: Disney Legend, Tom Nabbe, played the role of Tom Sawyer for years after the island opened, showing adventurous kids every nook and cranny that the island held. Of course, that is what made the Disneyland version so unique. It was a truly interactive experience for kids, who go to live out an adventure with Tom Sawyer himself. But unfortunately, Disneyland visitors no longer have that luxury, because Tom Sawyer Island has been invaded by Pirates these days. So, Walt Disney World is the only place you can still get the pure Tom Sawyer fix.
Keith: Well, technically, it still is Tom Sawyer Island in Disneyland. It’s official name is Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, and per the Disneyland website: “Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island recalls the plucky adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn when they ran away to a remote island to live the carefree life of a pirate.” So, uh, yeah. Okay so I don’t personally love the Pirate’s Lair “overlay.” But for those who are into pirates, it’s pretty cool. And since this island has always been more of a draw for kids, the contemporary theme (I say contemporary meaning pirates are more relevant these days than Huck Finn) adds incentive for them to ask their parents to traverse the Rivers of America with them on one of four rafts: Anne Bonny, Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, or… Tom Sawyer!
Jeff: There seems to be an odd man out on those raft names…hmmm…
Anyway, I actually seem to find myself enjoying Tom Sawyer Island more now than I did as a kid. I always saw it as a no man’s land, disconnected from the rest of the Park, and away from the action. Now, I like to explore it’s many trails, pathways, treehouses, and all that jazz. It actually makes me feel like I’m a (big) kid again! Plus, sitting along the waterfront, rocking in a rocking chair, watching the paddle wheeler go by . . . an excellent way to while away an hour.
Keith: Well, before the “pirate infusion,” the rafts were named: Huck Finn, Injun Joe, Becky Thatcher, and Tom Sawyer. The new names make sense, even if redoing the island’s theme didn’t.
So just why is Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island better? I’m glad you asked, Jeff. The pirate theme appeals to a lot of folks these days. Ours still has trails, pathways and tree houses. It also has a rope bridge, a treasure dig, and you can even be “haunted by ghastly apparitions inside Dead Man’s Grotto.” Spooky! Like you, we can also watch the Mark Twain go by. And our Tom Sawyer Island doesn’t offer refuge to an abandoned Aunt Polly’s. One of the coolest things though, is the fact that our Tom Sawyer Island doubles as a “stage” at night for performances of our superior Fantasmic show [editor’s note: Fantasmic will be part of a future Dueling Disney]. In fact, the coolest part of the show takes place on the island. And as usual, in this still very young series, I am saving the best for last. Our Tom Sawyer Island was designed by Walt Disney himself. Yeah, that’s right. Walt took the blueprints for the island home one night, and laid them out across the drafting table in his barn. That would be the barn constructed for his personal Carolwood Pacific Railroad he had installed at his Holmby Hills home. He came back the next day with a piece of tracing paper, which had the island drawn to scale (including all the inlets), and handed it to Disney Art Director Marvin Davis. “I put it down and traced it off,” Davis said in an interview. “And that’s the way it is today. He did it literally, he drew it out himself.”
Jeff: Yeah, well, you know how OUR island got designed?
OK, me either. We don’t have a cool story like that. But that’s OK. Because it was naturally formed that way! Wait, it wasn’t? Oh, OK. Well. I got nothing then.
Well, except for the fact that our Fort is still open to the public. That’s pretty awesome. Your version is now the home to a big, white trailer. Nothing says “Pirate’s Lair” like a big, white trailer. While we may not have a Tom Sawyer running around, or a rush to find the sacred paintbrushes any longer, we do still have a bit of the original charm of the island. And for that, I say we win.
What say you, loyal MiceChatters? Which version is superior? Let us know in the poll and the comments below!
Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck