Tom Sawyer Island Reopens with New Theme

The island attraction that Walt Disney himself designed reopens today with a revamped theme.

ANAHEIM – Let the lads and lasses loot, plunder and pillage to their hearts' content at Disneyland – if they can get past some scurvy scallywags ready to defend their precious spoils.

Now that facets of old Tom Sawyer Island have gotten the heave-ho, the attraction reopens today with a redesigned "Pirates of the Caribbean" theme meant to boost the aging interactive playground and capitalize on the success of the movie franchise.

Disney timed the opening of Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, as it's now called, with the release of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" to theaters. This new take boasts features that are more pirate-specific, while keeping the classic Mark Twain novel in mind.

So what would Walt Disney, who personally designed the original attraction, make of Tom Sawyer Island version 2.0?

"It's still very much in line with Walt's original vision," said Glenn Kelman, senior show director of Disney Entertainment Productions. "We had seen a picture of the original raft design for the island that had a pirate flag on it. Tom and Huck spend a portion of the book pretending to be pirates and we thought, if they live in that fantasy, why not bring it to life here?"

Facing what Kelman calls an "aggressive schedule," crews worked for less than four months to revamp the 51-year-old attraction.

Visitors to Frontierland will now find a pirate greeting them at the dock to Tom Sawyer Island. He'll give guests pirate names, teach them pirate etiquette and request that any loot found be conveniently split with him, Kelman said.

The attraction itself has been loaded with special effects, live pirates skulking about and activity areas for visitors to discover hidden treasure. In one cove, guests can maneuver pumps that reveal a sunken ship and skeletal pirates still clinging to what lies beneath.

Other new aspects include a "bone cage," taken from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, in which guests can appear as if they're suspended under water; a treasure room dutifully protected by Capt. Jack Sparrow, the movie's hero; and a live action show featuring Sparrow as a swashbuckler.

When word was leaked on the Internet late last year that Tom Sawyer Island would be made over with a pirate theme, forums lit up with some Disney traditionalists balking:

"Fix Tom Sawyers and stop destroying the original magic that is left in Disneyland," read one post on the Disney news site

"It's just a fad and when this fad is gone, Disney will be sorry!" another fan wrote.

But few could dispute the attraction was losing its potency, said Dave Koenig, author of "Mouse Tales: A Behind-The-Ears Look at Disneyland," adding that Tom Sawyer Island's separation from the rest of the park lent itself to neglect.

What initially made the attraction unique, Koenig said, was that children were not spoon-fed a storyline there.

"It was one place where kids could break from their parents and go crazy," said Koenig, 44, who used to explore the attraction in his youth. "It's a playground of imagination."

Disney officials are confident the redesigned island and its newest inhabitants will get a warm reception.

"We'll watch and see how people react," said Xiomara Wiley, Disney's vice president of marketing. "We expect a lot of people will be very interested."

Tom Sawyer Island History

1956: The island opens as an interactive playground featuring Tom and Huck's tree house and Injun Joe's cave.

1992: The southern part of the island is used to accommodate the nighttime "Fantasmic!" light and water show.

2001: A 6-year-old girl loses part of a finger on a toy rifle in the island's play fort. The guns are removed.

Feb. 5, 2007: The island and "Fantasmic!" are shut down as crews begin work on a redesigned attraction.

May 25, 2007: Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island opens.

June 15, 2007: "Fantasmic!" is set to return.

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