My first encounter with Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean? It was not on a family vacation to Walt Disney World. Nor was it on a similar excursion to Disneyland. I was introduced to those various rascals, scoundrels, villains and knaves in 1973 when I used hard-earned allowance money to purchase plastic model kits based on the now classic theme park attraction.
It all began with a very impressive four-page advertisement that appeared in numerous comic books.
At that point in my life, I'm not sure that I'd even heard of the Disneyland attraction, which at the time was less than a decade old. What I saw when gazing at these pages were very, very cool models of . . . skeletons. Yes, for many young kids at that time, monster model kits were a big deal. Monster model kits involving skeletons? We were beside ourselves with excitement.
Model maker MPC enhanced the Pirates of the Caribbean kits with the wholly new Zap/Action feature. According to the ad copy:
Now . . . something never in model kits before. Zap/Action pirate scenes based on Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, the most popular attraction in Disneyland. First you build these exciting and detailed scenes . . . then at the touch of a lever . . . release Zap/Action . . . and the pirates perform a variety of surprise actions! And the Zap/Action can be reset over and over again!
MPC launched the series with five kits: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Fate of the Mutineers, Dead Man's Raft, Condemned to Chains Forever and Hoist High the Jolly Roger. Two additional kits were later released: Ghost of the Treasure Guard and Freed in the Nick of Time. Ghost of the Treasure Guard however, actually recycled the figures from Dead Men Tell No Tales and Hoist High the Jolly Roger and combined them into a larger scene. The figure in Hoist High the Jolly Roger was the only one in the series to represent a living human and not a skeletal ghost.
I remember personally owning Dead Men Tell No Tales and Fate of the Mutineers. Each of the first five kits included a two-page printed insert that provided background on the Disneyland attraction, a history of the Age of Piracy and a suggested layout that would simulate an attraction ride-through. It is likely that the following paragraph from that insert was the first time I'd ever heard of Pirates of the Caribbean. Growing up in western Pennsylvania, my friends and I knew little of Disneyland. Park-centric shows on the Wonderful World of Disney had become almost non-existent by the early 1970s, at least a far as I remembered.
The introductory paragraph from the insert:
The most popular attraction at Disneyland is the Pirates of the Caribbean, an electronic wonder that is years ahead of its time in excitement, imagination and animation. Here, all the authenticity of the Age of Pirates are combined with the most advanced technology and that special Disney fun touch to provide a sight, sound and action attraction that has thrilled millions. Now, Pirates of the Caribbean is the basis for an entirely new kind of kit series from MPC . . . a total scene kit series with the added dimension of Zap/Action. Like Disney, MPC has created the lighter side of the Age of Piracy . . . yet combining it with the authenticity and the proven appeal of action and excitement.
The original five kits:
Dead Men Tell No Tales
Left behind to guard the treasure, this pirate has plenty of life left in him. He builds up into a great model scene. But watch out! One touch of the button and . . . Zap/Action! His arm swings up and he's got the drop on you.
Fate of the Mutineers
No fate worse than being dumped on a desert island . . . and falling in quicksand! One maty tries to help the other out, but a touch of the switch and . . . Zap/Action! The blighter's bones give way!
Dead Man's Raft
Here is a magnificent model scene . . . the remains of a badly battered ship with an old salty seaman behind the wheel. But one slight peek inside the hatch and Zap/Action! Up leaps his angry mate, slamming down upon the treasure map.
Condemned to Chains Forever
He tried to skip ship, but skip he will no longer. A hard hearted scene with alligator and all. But alligator beware! A finger's touch and . . . Zap/Action! Down swings the sword upon the alligator's head!
Hoist High the Jolly Roger
In fantastic detail, Captain Villainy with his peg leg upon the king's ransom, preparing to fight all comers. And curses! That's just what happens when . . . Zap/Action! He swings his arm with sword . . and woe to the treasure hunters.
The two additional kits:
As noted, Ghost of the Treasure Guard combined two previous kits.
The kits proved very successful and MPC subsequently produced a series of models inspired by another Disneyland attraction, namely the Haunted Mansion. Those kits also featured Zap/Action!
Re-releases of vintage monster/film/sci-fi kits have been very popular in recent years so it is curious that MPC has never opted to reissue the kits. Especially considering the incredible popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. Maybe the company will reconsider with the impending release next year of On Stranger Tides and rumors of additional sequels.
Very special thanks to Sam McCain of Horror Sanctum Studios who provided the photos of his own Pirates of the Caribbean model kit collection. Sam is a well known and respected Hollywood makeup effects artist and master mask maker. You can visit him at www.horrorsanctum.com.