Music Behind the Ride: Pirates of the Caribbean

When thinking of iconic rides in the Disney parks, Pirates of the Caribbean easily comes to mind.  In this edition of Music Behind the Ride, I wanted to dig into the ride history, the music, and the updates over the years.

One of the last rides overseen by Walt Disney personally, the dark boat ride opened at Disneyland in March 1967.  The ride features over 100 animal and pirate audio-animatronics which help populate the multiple show scenes.  Designed by some of the top Imagineering talents, here's a rundown of the original ride.  Entering in New Orleans Square, your boat glides through the bayou, passing the Blue Bayou restaurant.  Your boat passes under the skull and crossbones (voiced by X Atencio), which gives a stern warning.  The boat takes a quick plunge down waterfalls into the grotto.  We hear the first iteration of Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me) with lyrics as your boat heads into the grotto.     

The tableaus in the grotto are grim - skeletons around an empty treasure chest, stuck at a ship's wheel, the captain's skeleton propped in bed and wine trickling through a skeleton in the crew's quarter.  Atmosphere and sound effects carry much of this section, but instrumental versions of Yo Ho are heard.  The boat goes past the treasure room with "dead men tell no tales" heard by ghostly voices.

You next go between the Wicked Wench firing cannons on your left and the Spanish fort on the right.  The next scene goes through the rambunctious actions in the sacked town.  Classic tableaus surround the boat on all sides - the dunked pirate, the wench auction scene and the chasing pirates.  You hear the sounds of rowdy pirates singing A Pirate's Life for Me as they loot the burning town.  The song continues as we see poses of drunken pirates and the iconic prison dog.  Later we see pirates shooting around while sitting on barrels of gunpowder in the arsenal.  The boat heads back into the bayou for exiting as we hear a lively version of Yo Ho.

Like other early Disneyland attractions, a musical identity would give a sense of continuity to the ride.  Imagineer X Atencio would write the dialog for the ride, and eventually the lyrics to Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me).  The song was modeled after a sea chanty, which kept things light among the pirate's scary scenes and deeds.  For music, Walt turned to George Bruns.  Bruns, music director for Disney, worked on several Disney television shows and animated films - he's no doubt done something you know.  As mentioned before, the tune follows through most of the ride, mostly in instrumental variations.  The burning town brings the rapid fire lyrics, both incredibly catchy and hard to sing along to!

Shockingly, Pirates of the Caribbean didn't open when Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom opened.  Disney quickly added it to the park, and had it open in 1973.  The ride's locale this time is in a Spanish fort, which the queue winds through.  The beginning bayou is gone and  the cavern section is truncated, but generally the ride is the same.  Disney was sure to have Pirates of the Caribbean as opening attractions in Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and Disneyland Paris in 1992.

Over the years, the attraction has gone through various changes - some more controversial than others.  But the biggest change was the 2006 refurbishment.

After the success of the Pirates film franchise, Imagineering added film elements into the classic attraction.  This refurbishment was timed with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006).  Multiple audio-animatronic figures of Jack Sparrow now appear throughout the ride, Captain Barbossa now shouts from the deck of the battled Wicked Wench and Davy Jones' ghostly image appears in a waterfall.  Naturally the ride script was tweaked with references to Captain Jack.  Musically, the track "The Medallion Calls" from the first film was used in the Barbossa ship battle and ride entrance.  Later, "Up is Down" was added to the entrance area, and snippets of the organ music was added to Davy Jones' effect.  More changes came in 2011, coinciding with On Stranger Tides and more controversial script/animatronic changes in 2017.  Disneyland Paris eventually added in cursed Barbossa and Jack Sparrow audio-animatronics in 2017.  

Over in Shanghai Disneyland, a whole new concept of Pirates took place as Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.  Opening in 2016, the ride features a new story based entirely on the film series.  It's a great example of a modern dark ride, with illusions/practical effects, stunning audio-animatronics, large video projections and an updated ride system.  Since the ride is film based, we hear snippets from the scores like Jack Sparrow's theme, Davy Jones' organ, and of course the main "He's a Pirate" cue.  And yes, Yo Ho makes an instrumental appearance at the end.

For recordings, plenty of Disney park compilations include the original vocal Yo Ho and Bruns' Pirates Overture.  There also was a park exclusive album, full of musical treasures - with parts of the original audio elements, demos and even the full Disneyland "float through".

Pirates of the Caribbean is a classic attraction seen the world over.  Thanks to X Atencio and George Bruns, it also adds one of the most memorable songs into the Disney parks!  Drink up me hearties!

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