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New Surrell book offers detailed look at "Pirates" origins

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New Surrell book offers detailed look at "Pirates" origins

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It has served as the inspiration for a trio of popular motion pictures ...

Photo by Jeff Lange

A series of best selling toys ...

and games ...

Even a breakfast cereal.

But how many of you remember when "Pirates of the Caribbean" was just a theme park ride?

Well, Jason Surrell does. Mind you, this Imagineer / author realizes that "Pirates" isn't just any theme park ride. But -- rather -- perhaps the greatest attraction that the Walt Disney Company has ever built. What many people have called Walt's last masterpiece.

So Surrell decided that it was high time that someone wrote the definitive history of this Disney theme park attraction. A book that would not only talk about this fabled ride's origins & development, but would also go into great detail about the various versions of this attraction that now exist around the globe.

It took Jason nine months to complete the book, three of which were devoted to just research. Three months of sitting down with veteran Imagineers, of digging through WDI's archives as he chased down the earliest possible story treatments for the attraction. But the end result -- "Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies" (Disney Editions, November 2005) -- was well worth the effort.

Just like with his earlier volume, "The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies," Surrell takes his readers all the way back to the start of the story. Which -- in this case -- was 1954. When -- as Walt was first formalizing his final plans for Disneyland -- the notion of doing something with pirates in his new theme park began to appeal to Disney.

Of course, this was well before the invention of Audio Animatronics. So what Walt was originally thinking about doing was creating some sort of wax museum. A "Rogues Gallery," if you will, where Disneyland guests could then come face-to-face with recreations of some of the most infamous pirates of all time.

But of course, what with Walt being Walt and all ... Simple inanimate wax figures wouldn't do at all. So at first, there was talk of the "Rogues Gallery" having music, narration and dramatic lighting to make the place seem that much more entertaining & exciting to Disneyland's guests. But then there was talk of how the figures in the gallery would have limited movement ... And then ... Well, things just began to snowball from there.

And what was initially supposed to be just a walk-through show eventually became (Thanks to Walt Disney's involvement in the 1964 New York World's Fair) a ride-through attraction. One that would showcase Disney's then-still-new Audio Animatronic technology.

The end result -- which finally opened in March of 1967 -- has proven to be the most popular attraction in Disneyland history. Even today, almost 40 years since those very first guests climbed down into a bateaux and slowly drifted past the Blue Bayou restaurant, "Pirates of the Caribbean" remains hugely popular with Disneyland visitors. According to internal documents, over 70% of the people that come through that Anaheim theme park's turnstiles eventually find their way back to New Orleans Square. So that they can then experience "Pirates" one more time.

It's the creation of this attraction that's chronicled in "From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies." Mind you, what's truly great about Surrell's book is that he doesn't just fall back on the same old tired stories that have been always told about "Pirates of the Caribbean" As in: Imagineering legend Marc Davis designed most of the attraction's set pieces while X. Atencio wrote the show's script, etc.

No, Jason makes a point of spreading the credit around. Which is why he attributes Claude Coats with the idea of keeping the treasure cave's mouth tiny (So that -- when the Wicked Wench is finally revealed, firing upon the Spanish fort -- that moment in the attraction would seem that much more dramatic). As well as revealing the amusing place that Blaine Gibson finally found his inspiration for the proper way to sculpt the mayor's fat neck in the ride's dunking sequence.

Not only that, but Surrell gets downright anal when it comes to describing the similarities (More importantly, documenting the differences) between the Disneyland, WDW, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland-Paris versions of this same attraction.

This -- coupled with a colorful description of how the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie (I.E. "The Curse of the Black Pearl") actually came into being (Not to mention some amazing images from that film's soon-to-be released sequel,"Dead Man's Chest") -- makes "From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies" just the sort of volume that every Disney theme park fan should have in their library.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Beautifully illustrated with seldom-seen artwork straight out of WDI's art library, "Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies" is a great looking book. My only complaint about Surrell's latest theme park history is that -- even though it's 144 pages long -- it still seemed too short. Given how well written and well researched this Disney Editions book was, I wished that this volume would go on and on.

Ah, well. I guess I can take some solace in knowing that Jason's already at work on his next Disney theme park history book . And given that this next one, "The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at its Peak",  will detail the development of Disney's mountain range (I.E The Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain as well as DAK's newest thrill ride, "Expedition Everest") ... Well, that sounds like it should be a fun read too.

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