05/29/2019: Welcome to our tropical hide away you lovely people you! This week Mario and Brian take a deep dive on a Walt Disney World classic: The Enchanted Tiki Room!


Show Notes:
  • The Bird
    • Our story begins in the late 1950s, a few short years after the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim. Walt was on a vacation to New Orleans, a city he greatly enjoyed. Not only did Disney draw from the setting and culture of the city in its now famous New Orleans Square section of the park, but for a time, Walt was considering opening the East Coast version of Disneyland There.
    • While in New Orleans, Walt stopped at an Antique store, and came across a treasure that would change the course of Disney Parks, and the company as a whole. It was a large golden cage that held a stuffed, mechanical bird. When activated, the bird would turn its head, flap its wings and tail, and whistle. Walt was intrigued by the piece and realized that his company had been at the forefront of 2D animation for years. In his mind, he saw this bird as 3D animation, in a sense, and wondered if he and his team of imagineers could take something like this and improve on it.
    • Walt purchased the Bird and brought it back to California, where he immediately had his imagineers dismantle the contraption to find out how it worked. He challenged them to rework the bird and find a way to make its beak move in sync to words and music. Wathel Rogers and the other imagineers used magnetic tape with an embedded signal. As it turned in time with the audio recording, the figure's movement were perfectly synced with the sounds.
    • To quote Walt "...we created a new type of animation, so new that we had to invent a new name for it—Audio-Animatronics."
    • I believe Walt seeing Audio Animatronics as a new form of animation was a large reason for their success and longevity. Disney and his animators were always innovating animation techniques, not only for the visual appeal, but because it allowed them to create better characters and be better storytellers. In that same vein, Audio Animatronics, were and still are very technically impressive, but their ability to pull guests into the storylines of the ride is what has made them so appealing.
  • A Growing Park and Adventureland
    • In the late 50s, Disneyland was experiencing growing attendance, and Walt knew he would have to expand the park in order to keep up with the growing demand. He began looking for ways to incorporate the new Audio Aimatronic technology into areas in the park.
    • Walt's first idea was actually a Chinese Restaurant, which would go into a planned expansion on Main St. Walt told his Imagineers “I want to have a Chinese restaurant at the park. Out in the lobby will be an old Chinese fellow like Confucius—not an actor, but a figure. Now the customers will ask him questions, and he’ll reply with words of wisdom.”  However, the Imagineers believed that using the technology to create a human character would be too challenging for their first real go at it, and the idea was tabled. Only a few years later, though, the Imagineers created Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for the New York's World fair.
    • During this time, Imagineers were also planning an expansion to Adventureland. By this point, the only thing in this section of the park was the Jungle Cruise and various shops.
    • Imagineer Herb Ryman made a number of illustrations to pitch an idea to Walt. Drawing on the popularity of Hawaiian culture and design that came to Mainland America after the state's introduction to the union in 1959, Ryman had created a tiki themed, upscale restraunt. The decor featured tiki masks, tropical plants, Polynesian architecture, but most notably, Tropical Birds in cages suspended above the tables.
    • Walt immediately rejected the idea, stating "You can't have live birds above the guests, they'd poop on them!" Ryman explained to Walt that they weren't live birds, but Audio Animatronic figures. The idea was just what walt was looking for. A new interactive restaurant, a way to showcase the new technology, and an addition to the mostly empty Adventureland.
  • The Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Plan
    • The development on the restaurant began under the name "The Bird Cafe" drawing strongly on Herb Ryman's concept art. At first, the birds were originally meant to be more of an addition to the ambiance of the restaurant, but Walt was adamant about pushing the technology  as far as they could, after all this would be the World's introduction to Audio Animatronics. The plans started with the birds simply chirping, then chirping along together, to singing, into an entire musical number.
    • Walt wanted the designs of the birds to be unique and colorful to grab guests' attention. “This show doesn’t have to be a natural history museum. Let’s have some fun!” At first he charged legendary Imagineer Rolly Crump with the avian design. Crump came back with a very bright and stylized design that Walt found" a little too crazy." He then gave the task to sculptor and imagineer Blaine Gibson. Gibson's designs were much more realistic, but featured enough characterization in the face to allow the Imagineers to denote different expressions. Walt approved, and hsi designs were the basis for most of the Bird characters. Artist Marc Davis also joined the Tiki Team in his first Imagineering Assignment. He came up with some of the minor bird characters, the singing Flowers, and the talking totems used throughout the attraction
    • Imagineer Harriet Burns was in charge of the actual creation of the figures, and actually used real feathers in the design. She also created them in a layered technique that would allow the swatch of feather to stretch with the birds' movements without exposing the mechanics underneath
    • As time went on, the working title of the attraction became "Legends of the Enchanted Tiki" with the bird designs decided upon, the next step of the process was to create the actual songs they would sing. Walt, of course, turned to the Sherman brothers for this effort. Borrowing upon a calypso beat they had developed for a documentary on the making of the Swiss Family Robinson Movie. To it, the added the now famous lyrics, and the Tiki Room theme was born. After pitching the song to Walt, and upon his approval, the brothers suggested having one colorful parrot serve as the emcee of the attraction. Walt thought, instead of one, why not four? And set his imagineers to designing them.
    • Imagineers Marty Sklar and Larry Clemmons, among others, came up with the 4 main birs of the show, nicknamed the MacAudios. Jose, Fritz, Michael and Pierre all represented a different nationality, and in the original iteration of the attraction, had plummage to match their corresponding flags. The vocal artists brought in to provide audio for the 4 birds should be well known to Disney Fans. Wally Boag(Jose), Thurls Ravenscroft(Fritz( and Fulton Burley(Michael) and Ernie Newman(Pierre)
  • Welcome to the Tropical Hideaway
    • Once the show was written and recorded, the actual construction of the attraction only took 3 months. Though before opening Walt expressed concerns about sticking with the original plans of the attraction featuring a restaurant. He was worried that with this being the debut for the new technology, guests might be distracted while eating and not focused on the Animatronics. He eventually decided to scrap the restaurant portion, and have guests entirely focused on the show. However much of the construction had already begun, which is why it is the only attraction to feature its own bathroom.
    • To hold the hosts along with other birds, Rolly crump sculpted the now famous Birdmobile inside the actual attraction, standing on a ladder. Upon completion of the attraction, the number of  Audio Animatronics totaled over 125, with the 4 hosts,an additional four macaws, six cockatoos, nearly 30 tropical birds, 12 toucans, more than 50 orchids, seven bird-of-paradise flowers, 12 Tiki drummers, and singing Tiki war god totems.
    • In order to create excitement for the Tiki room, Walt went set up a media preview in the Disney Studios in April of 1963, for a select number of outlets. Later on June 19, he had more than 40 major newspapers, magazines, and TV and radio stations come see the actual attraction. The new technology  astounded the guests and was met with almost entirely positive responses.
    • The attraction opened shorly after on June 23, 1963. At this point in time, WED, Walt's imagineering company, was actually a separate entity from the Disney Company. Unlike every other attraction at Disneyland, WED actually owned the Tiki room, and because of this, the standard A-E tickets weren't used. Instead, guests wanting to see the new attraction would have purchase a separate ticket for 75 cents to go in.
    • In 1964, United Airlines picked up sponsorship for the attraction, and continued doing so until 1973. At this point, Dole took over the sponsorship, and has continued doing so until Today.
    • Outside the Attraction, Imagineers included a "Barker Bird" This was another animatronic parrot named Juan, who would draw guest to the attraction. He would call out “Amigos, Romans, and Disneylanders! Stop walking while I’m squawking. Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room . . .  is Disney entertainment at its most exciting, best kind.” And, he continued, since the show “is on the inside, not the outside—that would be silly,” and Juan invited guests to come in “and sit down on your feathered dusters. Those amazing birds sing. They chant. They whistle. They croon.” Then, after singing a few bars, the Barker Bird cracked, “What did you expect? The Vienna Boys Choir?”
    • Juan was wildly successful, in fact too much so. Traffic Jams would regularly form as guests stopped to watch the bird, and in order to elleviate this issue, the imagineers decided to remove him.
  • The Tiki Room over the years
    • Due to the success of the Disneyland version of the attraction, Disney World opened its gates in 1971 with a version of the Tiki Room, called Tropical Serenade. The attraction itself was a copy of the Anaheim version, but featured a preshown with two additional animatronic birds for guests to view as they waited to enter the main show building.
    • In 1983, Tokyo Disneyland opened its version of the attraction, which was an exact copy of the one in Florida
    • Over the years the attraction has run, extensive care has been paid to the animatronic figures. Weekly dustings occur, and each of the white-plummed birdmobile characters has a double which are rotated out ever 6 months. According to a 1988 report, maintenance on the characters is no easy task. Refurbishment of the birds is handled only by professional taxidermists, and it takes, on average, 40 hours to redo each feather.
    • In 1996, the Disneyland Tiki Room received its first major update. Up until this point, the same analog technology was used to control the animatronics. This was finally updated to a digital format, bringing it up to date with similar shows throughout the park.
    • Though the Disneyland Tiki room held strong attendance numbers, the other versions of the attraction were not doing so well. Dwindling attendance drove imagineers to overhaul the Magic Kingdom Attraction. In 1997, Tropical Serenade closed down and was replaced in 1998 with the Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management. This version of the attraction featured Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from the Lion King as the new owners of the show. They attempted to bring in more modern music for a new audience, and summon a Tiki God, resulting in Iago being banashed and returning later in a charred, bruised state.
    • Similarly, Tokyo's version of the attraction was updated in 1999 to The Enchanted Tiki Room Now Playing: Get the Fever. This version set the attraction to a Las Vegas night club and replaced the original host birds with 4 new ones in matching attire. This version ran until 2008, when it was Replaced with Stitch Presents: Aloha E Komo Mai! The stich overhaul opened with the birds singing Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride and featured an Animatronic Stitch Character. This update was very well received by guests, unlike the Disney World Version
    • The Florida Tiki Room was almost universally despised by guests with the new update. Even though the attraction wasn't seeing great numbers before, it still had the original character of the original creation. In 2011, ironically (and perhaps due to the fate of an angry Tiki God), a fire started in the show building, causing sprinklers to go which damaged a number of the birds. Not wanted to recreate an unpopular version of the attraction, it was decided to return to the original, although slightly shortened Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened later that same year.
    • For the past 50 years, whether because of the delightful music, colorful birds, or just the draw of eating a Dole Whip by watching the show, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room has been enjoyed by guests and stood as an example of Walt and the Imagineers dedication to creating new experience to visitors to the parks.