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Good-bye Tom Sawyer? Will Disney abandon book lovers for 'Pirates 2.0'?

2006-10-03

By Robert Niles: Al Lutz today dropped the bomb that Disney's considering dropping the Tom Sawyer theme from the the Rivers of America island in favor of making the Disneyland playground yet another Pirates of the Caribbean themed attraction.

First, let me make clear that we're talking about my two favorite attractions here. And not just Disneyland attractions. These are my two favorite attractions on the face of the Earth. (Universal fans, flame away!) I worked both attractions in Florida, studied Twain extensively in college and read my daughter "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" when she was five.

Not some abridged kiddie version. The real thing. Which she loved, by the way. (We'll back to that in a moment.)

Lutz lays out the rationale for the switch, which he reports is not yet a done deal. The island's play areas can't compete with more modern playgrounds. The bathrooms are terrible, there's no place to eat, and the fort's in such lousy shape that Disney shuttered it.

And, most damning, kids today have little idea who Tom Sawyer is.

Sigh.

Again, I love Pirates of the Caribbean. The Disneyland version is the greatest dark ride ever built. The movie's a gas. But expanding the "Pirates" theme into every attraction on the Magic Kingdom's west side reminds me of what Disney did to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" a few years back. That should have taught Disney not to dupe a great thing to the point where everyone grows sick of it.

But as much as I love Pirates, it is entertainment, not art. In Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain created the most compelling, debated and beloved characters in all of American culture. If today's kids do not know of them, why, that's a pretty damning indictment of the rest of us, as parents, educators and artists. That Disney's failed these characters, and their story, by allowing Tom Sawyer's Island to fall into decay does not speak to an inherent lack of appeal in the characters, but to a lack of foresight by Disney.

Not every corner of a theme park must be devoted to the hottest flavor from the cineplex. Great theme parks find a place to appeal to the kids, and parents, who find their inspiration from books, not just movies and video games. That's why I, and my kids, adore Seuss Landing at Universal's Islands of Adventure. And the Fairy Tale Brook at Legoland. And Tom Sawyer's Island.

Yeah, I'm a freak. We don't have cable or satellite TV in our home. And my kids are not allowed to watch any TV or DVDs on a school night. (Looks like that was a good call, BTW.) So my kids read a look of books, and don't much care about the newest characters on Nick or the Disney channel. They love Tom Sawyer. And "Treasure Island." And Heidi. And Dr. Seuss.

If Disney wants to reinvigorate Disneyland by purging it of literary influences in favor of pop culture, well, that's Disney's right. But I hope someone else in theme park industry remembers that there are families out there who find joy and inspiration in the pages of great books. Even in elementary school. And that they make an effort to build a great new, interactive and imaginative attraction for them.

Because if Disney closes TSI, this family likely won't be visiting Disneyland as often anymore.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on October 3, 2006 at 1:00 PM
Well we know what you love in Disneyland!

LOL

Seriously, I think our Tom Sawyer will not be leaving Disney World's since it is in Frotierland and Pirates is nowhere near Frontier land in plotline. Though not my favorite attraction, it is one that allows you to run around a bit and burn some energy!

So I think Tom Sawyer Island will be safe in Disney World.

Also Disneyland is not as big or a powerhouse like Disney World is! They have been shaky for awhile. THis also brings up the question of what Tom Sawyer has to do with New Orleans Place (well, maybe the setting, but not really). Its a better fit in Frotieer Land. It is also sad that nobody knows these books anymore!

From Erik Yates on October 3, 2006 at 1:50 PM
As a parent I commend you for the no TV on school night, Robert. Reading is something that a lot of kids dont get enough of.
Tom Sawyer was one of my favorite places as a kid simply for the shaky bridge, and mill. I loved it and the cave...everything about it. It simply inspired the imagination. That they are thinking of ripping it out in favor of a playground based on yet another movie is very disheartening.
From Greg Shilton on October 3, 2006 at 6:25 PM
If they do make some Pirates 2.0, they should at least keep some of the TSI, for nostalgic purposes, and for the kids to still run around on. Keep everyone happy. TSI will still have some life left, and P2.0 will shed some life. Now, the likelyhood of this is probably rare. The only problem I have is that ever since that one girl hurt herself on TSI, I remember hearing you were not allowed to climb on the stuff and run around like kids used too. All she got(from what I understand) was a sprained arm. Honestly, I'm sure the kid made a full recovery.

But I digress.

I sure hope if they do P2.0, they keep SOME of TSI.

From Lori Matisoff on October 3, 2006 at 11:00 PM
I agree with Robert 100% TSI has always sparked my imagination. I remember the thrill of trying to find my way out of the caves when I was a kid. We used to play hide and go seek there, and I had my sister convinced Injun Joe would get her if she didn't watch out.As a teenager it became the place to go to grab a quick toke.As an adult, I take my kids there, and watch as they experience the same magic I did. I can't believe Disney would consider taking it out. A better solution, and probably cheaper is to renovate the area, maybe put a place to eat and a store in the fort area, add some new bridges and cave areas, etc. I can't believe that parents would allow their children to miss out on the wonders of the classics, have we become that shallow as a society?I hope not.
From keith rayment on October 4, 2006 at 12:30 AM
A point well made and which gets my support; culture and heritage merit being cherished.

Keith Rayment, England

From scott lindsey on October 4, 2006 at 7:52 AM
i love the park they could have both the pirates and tom sawyer
From Terri Thomas on October 4, 2006 at 8:17 AM
I agree that kids today don't know a thing about Tom & Huck. But it don't 'mount to a hill a beans if'n they're havin' fun runnin' and climbin', cause while the youngins are doin' what they do best, us old folks need a place to sit a spell and rock under a clear blue Disney sky.

Would be nice a 'course if'n they could make the caves a bit more fun & creepier while they're at it too, and if'n they had a place to get some decent vittles and maybe sell a coon-skin hat or a model raft kit. Oh! And s'pose there was a "tall tale hour" delivered by a man who looked a lot like Mr. Twain himself! (Twice a day perhaps - I hear it works for that Belle character). Then kids would 'preciate his stories on a whole new level.

And pirates? Well, there's a place for them too, but it 'aint near TSI. And tell you the truth, much as I was weaned on the salt water of Pirates, I s'pect I'd get mighty tired of it a'fore long if'n I had to have a 360 of it everywhere I turned.

So, thanks for bearin' with this ol' gal and for listen'n to my o'pinion. Mind what I say now and read to your youngins every night - young or not so young - and shut off that confounded television once in a while. You'll be su'prised at how much everyone'll learn.
Ya'll come back now, y'hear?

From Greg Shilton on October 4, 2006 at 8:23 AM
Terri, your comment made me smile. :D

And Scott, I'm sure they can do that. I mean, TSI isn't terribly small. I remember it being actually quite big. (Then again, I was 9 last time I did it).

From Joe Lane on October 4, 2006 at 8:48 AM
What happened?

This sounds like "old hat" Disney. This sounds like "Eisner-era" Disney--I thought we were on a course for new and better things?!

On the Pixar/Disney Re-Imagineering blog there's a post about the old bandstand in Tomorrowland and how Rolly Crump's classic planter sculpture will soon be reinstalled where Club Buzz has stood since 1998.

To me, that's just another sign of the times. In the past year, Iger has made a number of business decisions that have not only reflected smart business thinking on his part but also recognize the tradition of Disney. I was (and still am) convinced that the combined force of Iger and Lasseter was going to bring Disney back from the brink.

But now this?! This isn't the first time classic Disney has met its end at the hand of flashy Disney--remember when The Golden Horseshoe closed its doors at Disney World and was replaced with a Woody's Round-up type show--and how that quickly degraded into a character meet'n'greet?

Disney shouldn't even consider a second pirates attraction in their parks and I'll tell you why: the PotC rehab has been a success. The attraction is now able to appeal both to current Disney fans as well as the traditionalists. Plus, the effort (and money) is clearly evident in the refurbishment. And the whole thing was done with class: class that the company lacked a couple years ago.

So what purpose does a second attraction serve save to milk dry a successful franchise quicker? How many people do you know who complained that Dead Man's Chest wasn't nearly as good as The Black Pearl--and how many blamed it on movie length--or the way the film ended, setting up for the third film? Already people are becoming disenchancted by the Pirates franchise and years from now, kids will look upon PotC just as kids currently look upon Tom Sawyer.

This is where honest-to-God, true blue Imagineering comes in--this is where Disney has a chance to save the island: instead of closing it down and letting it rot, start drawing up some plans to turn the island into an even MORE fanciful playground--and if you need ANY kind of inspiration, just look at Camp Jurassic at Universal's Islands of Adventure. For six years, Universal was doing Disney better than Disney was doing Disney. Here's an opportunity for Disney to show they still got it. Don't turn Tom Sawyer into Pirates 2.0. Turn Tom Sawyer into Tom Sawyer 2.0! And if the problem lies in children not knowing who Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are, that's something that could be fixed by airing Twain-inspired films on The Disney Channel or ABC--or reprinting or even reimgining Tom Sawyer storybooks through Disney's publishing company.

Sheesh... this is Imagineering, not brain surgery.

From Greg Shilton on October 4, 2006 at 9:08 AM
"Disney shouldn't even consider a second pirates attraction in their parks and I'll tell you why: the PotC rehab has been a success."

Wouldn't you think that would be the MAIN reason for a P2.0? I mean, if it's such a huge hit, they would think that with another pirates ride, it will be an even BIGGER hit.

I'm sure that's what is going through their minds. The reason I think they shouldn't do P2.0 is because of TSI. Keep it. It just needs a little work. With some refirbishment, I'm sure it will be better than ever.

If they do build a P2.0, please please please keep some of TSI.

From Kim Johnson on October 4, 2006 at 10:00 AM
Nemo anyone?? It's overdone. It's everywhere. PERMANENT structures of Finding Nemo are taking over the parks. There is no need to have ANY movie/characters (with the exception being Mickey & gang) take over more than one attraction. I think that the IDEA of a Pirate island could be a lot of fun but I say, don't do it. resist!

That being said, I love TSI as well. The cave & the bridge are great, but when you've done them as many times as I have, it gets boring and it isn't in the best of shape. It needs to be refurb'd. AND redoing it, giving it a little media attention, WILL make kids/adults interested in the story again. (which I loved as a kid)

From ce R on October 4, 2006 at 11:58 AM
Closing TSI for a version of Pirates would break my heart.Why do they think they need TSI to compete with anything else.Why spend millions on a newer version of Pirates.Fix up the fort(how did it fall into such disrepair in the first place?)Upgrade the restrooms and not every section of Disneyland needs a restaurant.TSI is a good place to relax and wander around and escape the crowds and take time to enjoy the area.File this with the bad decision and idea of closing the Submerine Ride because it took to many people to run it and wasnt cost effective and replacing it with a Little Nemo Submerine Ride, Same ride different theme .It really makes me wonder sometimes if Disney management ever really learns from there mistakes?
From Erik Yates on October 4, 2006 at 2:18 PM
It was summed up. "there's no place to eat" Tells me that they are either losing money on this section of the park, or they are not making enough. If they go to revamp it, a lot of disneyphiles would more than likely say "why would they update it? Why not just replace it?" So in that rationale, why update it? Why replace it with the same thing? It doesnt make sense, in that form of thinking,to simpy replace it with something old and out of the minds of everyone. Make it something popular!
Well, the problem with that is that you ruin a perfectly good area that has potential even in being updated.

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