LAKE BUENA VISTA — What would Walt think?
Forty-seven years after the death of Mickey's proud papa, you'd better believe the Imagineers, inventors and eggheads in charge of pixie dust dispersal at Disney properties are still visited by the specter of Walter Elias Disney. He was a purist, a man obsessed with immersion. Say what you will about the sprawl he wrought, but when it comes to the art of theme parking, no one did it or — thanks to his looming dictatorial presence, even in ghostly form — does it better.
Allow me to nerd out for a second. This is fantastical speculation from an armchair Disney historian, but I'm willing to bet that Walt would have loved the narrative smarts and wahoo payoff of such rides as Splash Mountain and the Tower of Terror. After all, they're in the same mold as Space Mountain, an idea the boss conceived after the success of the Matterhorn Bobsleds in California's Disneyland.
Would he also love the exorbitant admission fees at the parks, originally built because Walt needed somewhere engaging to take his two daughters? Would he embrace the acquisition of non-Disney empires like Star Wars and Marvel Comics, which don't exactly immerse you in the wonders of Disneyana? Would he appreciate how the outside world is increasingly encroaching on visitors the bigger and glitzier everything gets? Hmm.
I thought about the notion of "What would Walt think?" as I played the newest interactive game at WDW. A Pirate's Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas, a decidedly retro excursion ingeniously woven through the jungle-y landscape of Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom.
Narrated by Capt. Jack Sparrow (alas, a Johnny Depp sound-alike, but a really good one), the game offers five short scavenger hunts for wanna-be swashbucklers; you can do one or you can do 'em all. The objective is simple: Seek gold and outsmart Jack's enemies with nothing but a map and a talisman, both of which you pick up in a hut just south of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The game is free with admission.
Almost every location packs a tingly animatronic surprise or special effect. I, for one, shot a smoking cannon twice to open a cursed treasure chest; that thrill was tucked into the swampy greenery of the Swiss Family Treehouse. With a wave of my paper talisman over a sensor — you follow "clues" from station to station, but really you just watch stuff happen — I also summoned a skeleton from a lagoon over by the Jungle Cruise.
A Pirate's Adventure could have been robotically engineered decades ago. I love that. It's also geared for kids as young as 3 or 4. I love that even more.
Yep, I was in heaven.
Part of the slick trick with A Pirate's Adventure is that it uses open space in already overdeveloped Adventureland. When I was a kid, I was often mesmerized by the quieter, shadowy spots of the Magic Kingdom, and this game takes you to corners you wouldn't normally go. Over there at the side of the Pirates of the Caribbean queue, a chorus of skulls with glowing eyes will reward you with a serenade.
A Pirate's Adventure — each of the five stories takes about 10 minutes — is my favorite new interactive game at the resort. I was at EPCOT recently, and when I saw characters from Disney Channel show Phineas & Ferb doing battle in the confines of the Mexico Pavilion, I'm pretty sure I felt the reverberations of Uncle Walt throwing a hissy in the Great Beyond. Agent P's World Showcase Adventure might be an espionogical blast, but the purist in me rankles at the game. Dr. Doofenshmirtz in a Mesoamerican pyramid? Huh?
To a lesser extent, I'm put off by the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive game. That thing is intense and exhausting; plus it intrudes on iconic parts of the park. Me? I like the simplicity of A Pirate's Adventure. It's immersive and slightly creepy and 100 percent old-school Disney. What would Walt think? What do you think?
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypolife on Twitter.