Tom, Huck & Jack
It's been six weeks since we had news about pirates invading Tom Sawyer Island and there've been some new developments on this fast-tracked project. When the story first broke here both the online message boards and the local Los Angeles media jumped on the news, and it all took quite a few people in Glendale and Burbank by surprise. At Disneyland itself there was hardly anyone in the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) building out back who had even heard a murmur of the proposal when we first mentioned it, and most of the Anaheim folks had to be belatedly told it really was a legitimate proposal coming their way and they had better get cracking on it. Although the official Disney spokespeople rather coyly won't confirm nor deny that anything is planned for Tom Sawyer Island, the project has had its final executive buyoffs and later this week the final budget will be approved by the sharp pencil boys in Burbank.
Stung by some of the public criticism the pirate island project received, particularly the surprisingly prominent editorial in the Los Angeles Times on the subject (that immediately made the rounds of executive offices in Glendale, Burbank and Anaheim), Disney has retreated a bit from its original intent to really expand the theme from the nearby Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride.
Instead, the WDI designers were relieved to remember that Mark Twain had written several chapters where Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Joe Harper all pretend to be pirates out on the Mississippi river. WDI has grabbed onto that original Twain plotline as a way to explain why Jack Sparrow will now be posing for tourist pictures on Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island. As they try to maintain continuity with the 50-year-old Disneyland icon, the projects original working title of "Pirate Island" has now evolved into the more American literature friendly "Pirates Lair at Tom Sawyer Island," and that name will most likely stick.
What has also been clearly decided in the last few weeks is that Fort Wilderness will remain effectively off limits when the new Island opens next Memorial Day weekend, and that any attempt to reopen the Fort to visitors will have to wait until the second phase of this pirate island makeover opens later this decade. As the Imagineers took extensive surveys of the island and its infrastructure, the decrepit condition of the stockade killed any hope of reopening it anytime soon.
In fact, quite a few pieces of this project have been shelved or cancelled in the last two months. But those changes have been made not because of financial constraints, but because there simply aren't enough hours in the day to do everything WDI originally wanted to do before next Memorial Day. Instead, there is now a second phase that will include the refurbishment of Fort Wilderness, if not its simple destruction and complete rebuilding. The second phase will also incorporate a new attraction in a show building about the size of Roger Rabbits Car Toon Spin to be built on the back side of the island, and that part of the project is known simply as "Pirate Caverns."
But for next summer there will still be plenty of new toys to play with at Pirates Lair. Many of the new effects and interactive elements to be installed over the winter are concepts WDI had originally wanted to included in last years refurbishment of Pirates of the Caribbean. If you remember 18 months ago when we were the first to tell you about the new things planned to be added to the upgraded Pirates ride, you'll recall the creepy moonlight skeleton effect that was to be included in the attraction. Once your boat sailed through the mist screen where Davy Jones now appears out of thin air to warn you that dead men tell no tales, a crows nest was planned to be built from a rocky outcropping in the tall caverns with a skeleton slumped over the railing. As a shaft of moonlight filtered through the cave and illuminated the skeleton, he would seemingly come to life and reach a bony hand out at your passing boat and warn you that dead men do indeed tell tales.
That scary skeleton effect was eventually cut from both the Anaheim and Orlando versions, but a similar skeleton is now planned to make an appearance in a dark corner of a radically improved Injun Joes Cave over on the island. Injun Joes Cave is where a number of new scenes and creepy special effects are to be added, and it's definitely going to make what is now a rather boring darkened corridor into a technological showpiece and serious fright fest, especially for the 3rd graders much of Pirates Lair is aimed at.
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