The talking skull in Pirates of the Caribbean has warned guests that "Dead Men tell no tales" at least 20 million times over the years – probably more. The poor mayor has been dunked in the well no less than 10 million times (and he still hasn't drowned). The auctioneer has been trying to unload the same plump young wench on the same six pirates (and more than 30 million guests) hundreds of times a day, 365 days a year – with no takers. And those same six pirates have been wanting the "red 'ed" (without success) for 25 years.
Day after day year after year, the pirates have been singing and pillaging and plundering and kidnapping and extorting and pilfering and marauding, much to the delight of the thousands of Disneyland guests who line up daily to see the less-than-daring exploits of these fun-loving scalawags.
In fact, Pirates of the Caribbean has emerged as perhaps the most successful attraction ever built at a Disney Theme Park. To go a step farther, it has become to Disneyland what such classics as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Pinocchio" are to Disney animated features: the quintessential definition of the Disney show-ride.
Who could have guessed that Pirates would have such an impact when it opened on March 18, 1967? Certainly not its creators.
"You always hope that anything you build will be a big hit," says Marc Davis, the principal designer of Pirates. "And I think we had a feeling that this one would be a success. But to be as popular now as when it opened? That was too much to hope for back then."
The idea that people would see Pirates of the Caribbean again and again is one that Walt continued to impress upon his designers. It was why he told them not to worry about filling scenes with too much detail or overlapping dialogue.
"Most of the figures were very simply animated because we didn't truthfully know how much we should put into these things," says Davis. "The simplicity was fine because you are moving and you had to have things you could 'read' (understand visually) quickly and enjoy and are not confusing. Then you can move on to another idea.
"But one figure that has some of the subtleties of the Mr. Lincoln figure is the Auctioneer," he continues. "He has all the lip purses and spread of the mouth that Mr. Lincoln has. But then all of a sudden I realized that you're in a boat and you won't see all those things. I mentioned that to Walt and he said, 'You know, each time you go through – and people will go through many times – this is going to be something they haven't seen before.'"
Another who learned that lesson was Xavier "X" Atencio, who wrote the script tor Pirates of the Caribbean and gave his voice to the talking skull that presides over the first downramp.
"We mocked up the Auction Scene in a warehouse at WED (Now Walt Disney Imagineering – WDI) with all the figures working and the dialogue," says Atencio. "We rigged up a dolly and pushed Walt through at the estimated time that the boats would be going through.
"You could hear all this noise from this side and that side, and I said, 'Sorry, Walt, I don't think you can hear this.'
And he said, 'It's just like going to a cocktail party. You tune in on this conversation and then you tune in on that one over there. Every time you come in you'll hear something completely different.'
I thought, "Why didn't I think of that?'"