October 4, 2006

Move Over, Tom Sawyer

Looks like there may be some big changes coming at Disneyland. Well, there have been big changes happening for the last few years, now that we’re finally out of the decade-long Pressler slump. And with John Lasseter from Pixar taking over as Principal Creative Advisor of Imagineering earlier this year, things have gotten even better. But this week we’ve got really big news about a really big makeover in one of the oldest parts of the park.

Tom Sawyer’s Island is on tap to get completely reimagined, rethemed, and rebuilt. Gone, in fact, will be Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (or the few allusions to them that are sprinkled around the island), and in their place will be Captain Jack Sparrow. That’s the word coming from Al Lutz this week, that there is a massive renovation of Tom Sawyer’s Island on the table, and if it gets approved the whole place will be converted into Pirates of the Carribean Island. Apparently the success this summer of the second movie has gotten Disney executives really excited about cashing in on Pirates frenzy, and they want to rush this rehab into place in time for the premiere of the third film next May. Says Al:

The current proposal calls for over 28 million to be spent this winter rebuilding and rebranding the Tom Sawyer themed attraction. Gone would be the treehouses, trails and caves referenced in the literary works of Mark Twain and originally designed for the simpler audiences of the 1950’s. In their place would be snazzier pirate themed activities designed for the kids of the 21st century who have grown up with extreme sports and Super Mario Brothers instead of barrel hoops and Tom Sawyer. The current lush wooded landscaping would also presumably be substantially altered, as tropical islands don’t quite match the southern American landscape.

It’s no secret that the Island has needed a makeover and more modern facilities installed for quite some time, and this project is just the ticket to get those things paid for. New bathrooms and regraded trails to accommodate wheelchairs and electric carts were added to the plan, as well as a snack bar and a small shop to milk a few bucks out of the expected hordes of parents and their children.

The proposal is so sweeping and moving so quickly that it may not all make it by next May. Part of the plan calls for the old Fort Wilderness facility to be razed, and the space used as an interactive pirate museum using exhibits and interactive play spaces such as those used in the Sorcerer’s Workshop in DCA’s Animation pavilion, or the nifty Fortress Explorations attraction at Tokyo DisneySea. That proposal for Fort Wilderness may be pushed into a Phase Two plan, which would be just fine with Burbank if they move forward on an as yet unscripted fourth installment of the Pirates movie series. And the word is that Johnny Depp is amenable to yet another sequel.

This is a massive plan, similar in concept to the reworking of the Swiss Family Treehouse into Tarzan’s Treehouse, but much larger in scope. The one large difference being, of course, that Pirates is a hit where Tarzan flopped and was forgotten. And there are a lot of details missing, like what will happen to the rafts? If they’re making the island wheelchair-friendly, won’t they have to do the same to the transportation? Or are the rafts already roll-on, roll-off vehicles that won’t need to be changed? And will they even fit in with the new theme anyway? And what about the canoes, the Indian Village, the Burning Cabin? So many questions, and so few details.

But I guess overall, this news is more exciting than it is depressing. Because first of all, it shows that Disney really is committed to putting more money into the parks. Which they haven’t been for a long time. And aside from the caves and the barrel bridge, there’s not really all that much to do on Tom Sawyer’s Island anyway. Riding the raft across is the most exciting part of a trip to the island. So maybe this is a needed renovation, and it will revitalize the island. Because really, in this day and age how many kids have heard of Tom Sawyer? Or Davy Crockett? Those are dated references, as dated as the House of the Future, Captain EO, and the Mary Blair Murals. I mean, I love all three of those dearly, but they’re part of Disneyland’s past. And if they came back, I don’t think they’d fit in. They’re not up to date, they’re not part of Disneyland’s future. Maybe it really is time to let go of Tom Sawyer and trust in the Imagineers.


This picture is from 1995. Pay no attention to the fool with the green pants and long hair.

And, incredibly, the Tom Sawyer news is only one page of Al’s four-page update. You’ve got to read through the whole article to get all the exciting info, including rehabs in Tomorrowland, Halloween decorations, and a $650 million+ plan to renovate California Adventure and fix many of that park’s problems.

Looks like John Lasseter is the best thing to happen to Disneyland in 20 years.

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  1. Kalrac says:

    Will they make the caves with padded ceilings so tall people won’t kill themselves on the overhangs?
    I hope they have an access option besides the rafts, actually. A drawbridge, perhaps, or a spooky piratey tunnel. Susan and I nearly died in the sun waiting in the unshaded line to get back off the island. We almost jumped in and waded across, but we stopped ourselves when we realized that water that’s only three feet deep should not naturally be that colour…

    Posted October 4, 2006 @ 6:35 pm
  2. Greepa says:

    I liked what I read in Al Lutz’s article about DCA. John Lasseter has a very good vision about what needs to be done there. I especially liked the themed transportation systems going to different parts of the park. And running the monorail around the Katella side of DCA. That park has desperately needed a quick, monorail access from Disneyland. Lets hope these ideas actually happen!

    Posted October 6, 2006 @ 7:05 pm

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