The Marc Davis Disjunction: Fantasy and Reality in the Magic Kingdom

By EPCOT Explorer

When considering how a Magic Kingdom creates her environments, there are countless schemas of how the park goes about placing a guest, or a viewer, into a setting that is believable, compelling, and usually otherworldly. No matter the way an attraction positions itself and its thematics, the end result is the same: a believable place or scenario is created, implied, and enjoyed.  This is the crux of a Magic Kingdom: belief is suspended, and we, as willing participants in a fantasy, are taken to a destination usually rooted in the expected cultural conscious. This doesn’t mean the environments are conventional or expected, but they are built upon genres and a cultural wellspring. How else would we willingly accept the sudden changes of time of day, context, or environment, when stepping into a ride vehicle? An experience in the Magic Kingdom is meant to be trasnsportive and preclude some basic logic. Continue after the page break for more…

For the purposes of this article, let’s consider Marc Davis. Davis was the king of caricature characters, and was most well known for his work on the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.  Davis’ ghosts and buccaneers are instantly relatable; they wear their emotions and personalities very prominently. This isn’t to say that they aren’t realistic, but they are augmented. These characters exist under a guise thematic detail that paints a picture of reality, but are shockingly basic and even fantastic. This isn’t a bad thing, either. We widely accept that Davis created some of the more relatable and memorable characters in WED’s pantheon. However, I think many ignore why Davis’ work operates so well, and that reasoning revolves around one of Davis’ contemporaries’ work on many of the same attractions that Davis worked on.  While Davis often supplied the characters to WED, Claude Coats supplied the setting and the environment.

Claude Coats worked on the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and countless animated films, providing the setting and “backgrounds” for the narratives or experiences in question. It is Claude Coats’ contribution of setting that establishes the overall tone and mood of the production at hand. And in contrast to Marc Davis, Coats’ work was not augmented or stretched to illicit emotional responses- his work did that by nature of being wrought with texture, peppered with illusion and wrapped up in thematic detail. This is not to say that Claude Coats’ work was not over exaggerated, as some of his more sinister designs are downright warped, but they aren’t augmented to suggest more of a fantasy environment that is already implied. If anything, Davis’ caricatures do this.

So, with all of this this in mind, there is a massive disjunction concerning how a Magic Kingdom goes about placing her stories and experiences in a thematic context. This “Davis Disjunction” allows for the theme park’s setting to be as realistic as details and thematic boundaries allow, while characters and situations provide for the fantasy and “magic” that gives reasoning to the park’s moniker.  Marc Davis’ attractions all contribute to this modus operandi in some way:

The Enchanted Tiki Room, while it boasts a beautiful Polynesian façade, and even houses lifelike birds, also has a host of googly eyed Tiki statues and columns that defy the cultural aesthetic that permeates through the attraction. Of course, a greater sense of fantasy is also found in the fact that the animals and flowers inside the attraction sing and dance.

Both the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean draw guests into a vivid and realistic environment, one that could easily be mistaken for something out of real localities or situations we would expect to be confronted with when examining the horror or adventure genre. However, both experiences dwell on the characters we encounter inside. Mansion’s host of ghosts and spooks all have easily discernable features and expressions that, first, allow us, as viewers to discern if they want to harm us or delight us, and two, allow us to relate with them. This is yet another signature achievement of Davis’: His characters and his work place our emotions as tied to that is happening to the characters. Consider the finale to the Haunted Mansion- we are still in a gloomy, oppressive graveyard, gnarled trees and tombstones punctuating our line of sight (thanks to Claude Coats…) but the sheer gleeful atmosphere of Davis’ characters and gags allow for the mood the change away from the mournful setting. The same thing happens in Pirates of the Caribbean: Although we are confronted with the intricacies of curses, time travel, and the eerie charm of a Caribbean island town, most of the buccaneer’s expressions alert us to their intensions. (Not to mention that the pirates never even see us, but that’s a thematic detail for another article. ) The drunken pirate with his group of hogs never threatens us, nor presents us with a reason to doubt that he’ll ever leave the mud. The auctioneer, though menacing, is clearly a vindictive pirate, but removed from us.  These characters fit the ride and it’s Caribbean aesthetic, but their overly dramatized moods wouldn’t be a reflection of realism in the same way an audio animatronic from, say, Spaceship Earth would. (Granted, there ARE pirate molds used to populate Spaceship Earth, but their coloration is so augmented between the two attractions that the difference in mood and expression is literally world’s apart. )

And then there is Davis’ Country Bear Jamboree. Set aside in a rustic and authentic theater amongst the clapboard buildings of Frontierland, Grizzly Hall could easily be a venue for human beings to preform, yet there are large bears on stage, singing and dancing along to music. And this goes off without a hitch. We are in the American West, by all accounts. The Liberty Belle and the Rivers of America are within eyesight, both realistic and truthful to their setting in every way. Big Thunder Mountain also can be seen through the trees, and though wild and unpredictable, it has the trappings of realism about its setting and aesthetics. Yet, take a left turn into Grizzly Hall and there’s a touch of fantasy and music waiting behind those red velvet curtains. This is the true nature of the Davis Disjunction and what it is to be a participant in the Magic Kingdom: conventions are suspended and illusions and thematic boundaries are meddled with when characters and attractions are made to fit on a sliding scale of how the realism of an environment and fantasy converge.

All of this considered, it should come as no surprise that this style of Davis’ is a mainstay of how a Magic Kingdom works. Tony Baxter adapted it for many of his attractions, including the aforementioned Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and even something like Splash Mountain that plays fast and loose with realism and fantasy characters, especially when not placed in Critter Country, but in Florida’s Frontierland. One of the latest attractions out of Walt Disney Imagineering is no different. Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland has the same thematic disjunction described here and is replicated, adhered to, and perhaps even done as a tribute to Marc Davis and his brand of attractions.

Mystic Manor takes place within Mystic Point, a thematic extension of the Adventureland concept, but centered around one large attraction. The grounds for the manor house are populated with artifacts and venues that are rich in the amalgamation of cultures and aesthetics of antiquity, ripe for use in an eccentric museum’s setting, which is what the manor house is. All of Mystic Point’s structures are realistic and beautifully detailed, firmly establishing the cogent thematics of this jungle outpost serving as a professor’s residence and museum. Inside the manor, the experience is one of sight gags, fantasy, and the antics of Albert the Monkey, Lord Henry Mystic’s pet. Lord Henry Mystic is the curator of the museum and the manor house’s occupant, while Albert is the foil who opens a magic music box and sets an enchantment upon the artifacts in the museum that brings them to life.  Here again, is the Davis Disjunction at work. Both characters and many of the scenes seen on the ride are highly stylized and made to look and appear as part of the fantastical series of events we see taking place. Lord Henry is the stereotypical English adventurer/historian/professor, in both appearance and action. Albert, his adorable pet who sets the entire attraction into motion is also highly emotive, spelling out how we see or feel based on what is happening around us in Mystic Manor. These overextensions of character make the ride no less fantastic or no less artistic, much in the same way Marc Davis’ caricatures allow the thematic breadth of a ride to be realized. Mystic Manor and Albert and Henry are simply a tribute or an extension of the style of one of WED’s greatest Imagineers.

The disjunction between a realistic environment and relatable, emotive characters is a hallmark of Imagineering and the way we see our way through a Magic Kingdom. What is most astounding about this thematic method is how it has stood the test of time. Marc Davis and Claude Coats began their work in Disneyland in the 1950’s, many of their more famous attractions being created in the 1960’s and 70’s when Disneyland was rapidly expanding and Walt Disney World was first being conceptualized. And now, here we are in 2015, seeing the same sort of thematic sensibilities recreated for a totally new, original, and technologically advanced dark ride like Mystic Manor. All the more proof that although Imagineering grows and adapts, the strongest thematic traditions of the Magic Kingdom will continue to flourish.




EPCOT Explorer has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort since he was 2 years old and has recently just made his first visit to Disneyland. EPCOT Explorer’s first ‘Disney’ interest is the history of EPCOT Center of his youth and the brand of optimism, futurism, and culture that was originally found in the park. Other interests include the thematic interplay of design elements in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdoms that make these theme parks repositories of culture and Americana. EPCOT Explorer is also interested in the World’s Fairs for their connections to EPCOT and tiki culture, since the return of the Enchanted Tiki Room to Walt Disney World in 2011. EE’s writings often focus on the minutia of Disney’s enterprises and attempt to uncover how and why the parks function in the manner that they do. EPCOT Explorer is currently a graduate student and Teaching Assistant in History at Florida International University. EPCOTEXPLORER.TUMBLR.COM

You can find all of EPCOT Explorer’s articles here.

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Motion Mondays: Pirates of the Caribbean 1967

By Keith Mahne

This week’s Motion Monday article is a real treat! We are about to take a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean shortly after it opened in 1967. The original “Lust” sequence is still in place. Continue after the page break for a quick look at the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction…

Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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Evacuating the Caribbean

By EPCOT Explorer

What you are about to see are truly amazing pictures of Walt Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean in the throes of an evacuation and not under regular show lighting. Recently, WDW Pirates of the Caribbean has been suffering from some operational problems and thus, has been evacuated more frequently than usual. A friend graciously shared these pictures from his experience from several weeks ago. With this in mind, it is currently rumored that Pirates will close from May to September of this year so as to facilitate a refurbishment of the attraction and get it back up to operational standards. While this 5 month period might not involve any large aesthetic or thematic changes, it’s hopefully long enough to correct some major problems with the Audio Animatronics and set lighting and effects. In 2007, The Haunted Mansion underwent a refurbishment of the same length, and to be frank, that refurbishment totally revitalized that attraction, bringing it up to the level of quality and care that these classic rides deserve. Let’s take a look at these rare photos after the page break…

The back of the set.

Look at all that detail! Yes, the pirates themselves are cartoony caricatures of buccaneers, but the set pieces are rife with texture. Some of that texture, I might add, is an illusion and lots of wood-grain and stone work is painted on and is actually flat. But considering the illusion and artistry at hand is exactly why Pirates of the Caribbean remains a classic and in need of preservation and attention.

EPCOT Explorer has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort since he was 2 years old and has recently just made his first visit to Disneyland. EPCOT Explorer’s first ‘Disney’ interest is the history of EPCOT Center of his youth and the brand of optimism, futurism, and culture that was originally found in the park. Other interests include the thematic interplay of design elements in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdoms that make these theme parks repositories of culture and Americana. EPCOT Explorer is also interested in the World’s Fairs for their connections to EPCOT and tiki culture, since the return of the Enchanted Tiki Room to Walt Disney World in 2011. EE’s writings often focus on the minutia of Disney’s enterprises and attempt to uncover how and why the parks function in the manner that they do. EPCOT Explorer is currently a graduate student and Teaching Assistant in History at Florida International University. EPCOTEXPLORER.TUMBLR.COM

You can find all of EPCOT Explorer’s articles here.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men (Used to) Tell Tales

By Randy Crane

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the truly great Disney attractions, but did you know it’s also a time-travel attraction? As Guests go back in time to experience the plundering pirates, we ride through an object lesson on the dangers of unrestrained indulgence. After the break, dead men will tell tales…

On July 24, 1966, New Orleans Square became the first new “land” added to Disneyland since the park opening, though Imagineers had been working on concepts for it since 1957. The first attraction to open in the new land was Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates of the Caribbean opened on March 18, 1967, and was the most advanced, elaborately themed attraction that had ever been built. Over sixty Audio Animatronic human characters, around fifty Audio Animatronic animals, and rich details made this sixteen-minute attraction an instant and perpetual favorite.

It’s also the last attraction that Walt Disney personally supervised. New Orleans Square opened about five months before he died, and Pirates opened about three months after. Major work was completed by the time he passed away on December 15, 1966, ten days after his sixty-fifth birthday.

“X” Atencio

Pirates of the Caribbean has undergone two major changes over the years. In 1997, the ride was closed for about two months for an update that included modifying a scene where pirates were chasing women so that they would be shown chasing food instead. The dialog of one of the only pirates who speaks in this scene (sometimes unofficially known as the “Pooped Pirate”) was also changed to conform to the new scene. This update led to what show writer “X” Atencio referred to as “Boy Scouts of the Caribbean.”

In 2006, Captain Jack Sparrow and others from the Pirates of the Caribbean films (which were inspired by the attraction) were added. The storyline was also changed significantly at that time, but it seems few are aware of the magnitude of the change. Originally the story portrayed random pirates looting and pillaging a town, but now the pirates were searching for Jack Sparrow. Most importantly (to me, anyway), the last scene was completely overhauled.

Let me back up for a moment.

As the ride begins, passengers are warned that “dead men tell no tales,” and then we plunge down two waterfalls into a grotto that shows the skeletons of pirates––some mid-battle, one piloting a shipwreck, and a couple having a drink (or trying to—it’s tough with no insides). We float through the Captain’s Quarters, where we see the captain—as a skeleton—admiring the treasure piled up around him. We again hear a disembodied warning that “These be the last friendly words you’ll hear. You may not survive to pass this way again.”

And with that, we pass through fog and into a battle between the pirates and occupants of a fort. Suddenly everyone is alive and shooting, or drinking, or chasing, or burning, or whatever. After passing through all of the town scenes and a final shootout, we arrive at the hill that takes us back to the dock, and it is here that the most significant story change has occurred.

Originally, and up until the addition of the movie characters, the final scenes consisted of two pirates trying to drag a huge haul of treasure up the hill, escaping from the city with their riches. A short distance farther up the hill we would see the pirates, now as skeletons and with one attacking the other, but still clutching the treasure chest as the ghostly voice again echoes, “Dead men tell no tales.”

Now, however, in that same space, Jack Sparrow lounges in a room full of treasure and gloats about his success.

Think about what the story was, because it is there that we find our lesson. We began the boat ride at the end of the story, with pirates as skeletons, not learning from the dangers of their ways: that their path would end in death. This theme lasts all the way up to the dark grotto after the Captain’s Quarters, but when we pass through the fog we, in effect, step back in time to see the pirates as they were. We travel through and see them doing what they do, and it kind of looks like fun. They sure seem to be having a good time, anyway. But as we begin to climb the hill, we literally and figuratively head back to where we started, and we are reminded of the perils of being “rascals, scoundrels, and ne’er-do-well cads” (as the song says).

Dead men have, indeed, told tales. Is there a Christian parallel?

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The wages of sin here (at Pirates) were, indeed, death. We may think it’s different for us, but while it may not be as obvious, the end result is still the same.

Do you see how dramatically the storyline has changed?

The lesson in the attraction has spelled itself out for us (though subtly enough that most people completely miss it). But did you know it goes even farther than that? You may have heard of the “Seven Deadly Sins.” It is not a biblical concept, really (though Proverbs 6:16–19 serves as a basis for the idea), but it does have roots as far back as the mid-fourth century. All seven of these “deadly sins” were illustrated in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, and many still are. Take a look:

Pride: Most everything the pirates do is rooted in pride in one form or another. A couple of townspeople provide examples, too: “the redhead” (who looks pretty full of herself) and Carlos, who refuses to give up the location of the treasure, but seems to be defiant (at least in part) to impress his wife.

Envy: The pirates try to get the location of the treasure out of the mayor. They want what he has. (This can also fall under greed.)

Gluttony: The pirates chase the food. Before the attraction’s overhaul, and even now, there are many scenes of pirates loaded up with food and/or alcohol.

Lust: The auction scene shows women being offered as brides for sale. Also, before food was added to a woman’s hands, pirates were lustfully reaching for women. (The Pooped Pirate was lust at its most obvious.)

Anger/Rage: All of the fighting scenes demonstrate this sin, especially the battle between the ship and the fort.

Greed/Avarice: The Captain’s Quarters and the two pirates stealing the chest at the end are probably the best examples of this vice.

Sloth: At least two pirates on the right side of the boat just lounge around (one with a couple of pigs interested in him, the other trying to entice a couple of cats).

You may have thought of other examples as you trekked through this sin-laden fictional place. With the addition of characters from the movies, some of these vices are no longer obvious, but without much trouble you can probably find new examples to replace the ones that have been removed.

While the attraction reflects more of a movie tie-in now, Pirates of the Caribbean used to have its own story. Many remnants of that story can still be seen today. It’s a fun ride, but it’s also a reminder. Our actions have consequences, and whether we want to admit it or not, sin, no matter how much fun it may seem at the time, does lead to death.

Takeaway: What “seemed like fun at the time” to you, but after spiritual reflection you’ve since realized was destructive in your life?
Randy Crane is a highly-regarded speaker and author, presenting engaging and thought-provoking messages on a variety of topics. He has a natural rapport and connection with audiences that makes them relate well to him, engage in his presentations, and come away with a fresh understanding of the subject at hand. Randy is also the host of the “Stories of the Magic” unofficial Disney podcast, where he interviews people from throughout the Disney company, from front-line Cast Members to Legends. Randy grew up in the church, but—like many others—wandered away from the faith for a time in high school. Now, he is an ordained minister, with both a Bachelor’s degree in Church Ministry (emphasis in Preaching) and a Master’s degree in Congregational Leadership from Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He has been preaching and teaching since 1998, and has been a drummer/percussionist on church worship teams since 1992. He married his wonderful wife Faye in November of 2000 and they are expecting their first child in April of 2015. Randy is the author of two books, Once Upon YOUR Time and Faith and the Magic Kingdom.

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