Celebrating 60 Years of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
Sixty years of the Enchanted Tiki Room doesn’t just mean a lot of decades of bird shows, although that number is enormous. Opened on June 23rd of 1963, The Enchanted Tiki Room represents Walt Disney’s first foray into Audio-Animatronics, a new “space age” technology that allowed inanimate characters to perform on cue–and even talk. Six decades of Abraham Lincoln, swashbuckling pirates, singing dolls, Big Al, Dinosaurs, Mark Twain, Figment, Extraterrestrial Aliens, Avatar Shamans and Dancing Baby Groots all take their roots from a thatched hut. We pay homage to this amazing attraction–Simple in concept but never simplistic in execution. We see how this attraction has played out for generations of audiences over the years, and has evolved into entire resorts like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Aulani. Join Jose, Fritz, Michael, Pierre and more as we celebrate one of only two attractions that carries the name of its founder, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
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Origins–The Bird Cafe Project
- The animation of inanimate objects like hippos, bears and squids were already a part of the Disneyland landscape originating in 1955.
- Marc Davis was invited to see how more humor, interest and show could be infused into the Disneyland attractions. This set the stage for creating a show that would have defined characters and an arc to its story experience.
- The original was to be a cafe or tea room, and would be sponsored by Stouffer’s as a restaurant. This led to a dialogue between John Hench and Walt Disney about birds pooping on the diners.
- Roger Broggie worked on mechanics. Blaine Gibson sculpted the birds. George Bruns worked on the music with The Sherman brothers writing “Let’s All Sing Like the Birds Sing.” The purpose of the song is to explain what the show was all about.
- Rolly Crump created the characters outside in the pre-show, though he had no experience in sculpting objects of this size.
- The four hosts were voiced by Wally Boag (Jose); Ernie Newton (Pierre); Fulton Burley (Michael); and Thurl Ravenscroft (Fritz). This was a big team effort.
- Retired Admiral Joe Fowler headed up construction of the project. So many hands would touch this effort to create this show and surrounding facilities,
- The show was mocked up on a soundstage at the Burbank Studios. But with all of this new development during this time W.E.D. Enterprises needed a new home for its imagineers. This began the process of moving to Glendale.
- The basement housed all that was needed to run the complicated systems that supported the show.
- Originally guests had to pay a separate ticket of 75 cents to see the show as there were no A-E tickets that were of that value. Today that would cost you $6.50.
- United Airlines sponsored the show from 1963 until 1977 when it changed over to Dole.
- Disney announced the show as “ten years in research and development” and having a budget of 1 million dollars. The LA Times called the show “revolutionary”.
- Ultimately the show would be paired with its neighbor, Tahitian Terrace. It premiered the year before the Tiki Room did. The “can do” attitude of this time was exemplified by Walt’s request to make the back drop tree for the performers a few feet higher.
Walt Disney World’s version took on a new title, Tropical Serenade.
To accommodate greater crowds, a more octagonal-like version of the building was created. This included open windows with views of the South Pacific and beyond.
A new opening show was introduced prior to the show with Sebastian Cabot (Family Affair and Bagheera) and Dallas McKennon (Ben Franklin, American Adventure).
The new show was sponsored by Florida Citrus Growers. They brought in as a spokesperson, Anita Bryant. Disney brought in a new character known as Orange Bird. All of this was paired under what was referred to as The Florida Citrus Sunshine Pavilion and the opportunity to get not Dole Whips but citrus drinks and citrus salads at the Sunshine Tree Terrace. Dole Whips came along around 1984.
Oriental Land Company had a choice between the two layouts for the Enchanted Tiki Room. They went with the Disneyland “cross” style version. They created a slightly more spacious pre-show area with Rolly Crump’s tikis as a waiting area.
The challenge to building the attraction or even the entire park in Tokyo is that all labor across the entire company was focused on building Epcot at the same time. Only a small team were dedicated to building Tokyo Disneyland. To maximize what they had, they took the same birds built for Tokyo and utilized it in a show that introduced and was leading up to the opening of Epcot Center.
Rather than Anita Bryant, they chose Marie Osmond to perform with the Tiki Birds. Both had made the song “Paper Dreams” a successful hit. She performed the song with the birds chirping along on a 1981 Special Called “One Man’s Dream” in preparation for the opening of Epcot Center.
Disneyland Paris has a tropical gathering of birds inside their Explorer’s Club in Adventureland
Hong Kong utilizes Enchanted Tiki elements for a retail experience. This is Professor Porter’s Trading Post.
Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management
Disney made a massive change to the Enchanted Tiki Room in Walt Disney World. You can see a post and podcast here. Today the show has been returned to a format very similar to the original, but still shorter and without a fountain in the center.
Tokyo Disney Changes
Here is the current version of The Enchanted Tiki Room at the Magic Kingdom.
In 1998 the show was changed out in Tokyo to The Enchanted Tiki Room Now Playing “Get the Fever”. It had a sort of Las Vegas show quality to it. In 2008 it was changed out to The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!
The Tiki Room’s original neighbor, The Tahitian Terrace has evolved over the years. For many years it was themed to Aladdin.
It eventually became the Tropical Hideaway, based on a phrase used in the Sherman Brothers song in the show. It features Rosita perched and making comments among the diners.
Over the decades Disney and other third party supporters have continued to further the art and science of animatronics. Here is the Navi Shaman as it was developed.
Just this month, Baby Groot (seems more like a 5 year old) puts on his dancing shoes to showcase what can happen with the technology:
Like hand-drawn animation before hand, or other Imagineering-styles since then, it accomplished the Illusion of Life, and has given life to so much around it.
Moreover, it created a solid team of artists, engineers and others who could come together to do amazing things. And that is what would occur as they shortly there after prepared for the New York World’s Fair, with Pirates of the Caribbean, a New Tomorrowland, the Haunted Mansion, and subsequently Walt Disney World all following within the next ten years. that wouldn’t have happened if Walt hadn’t created the team to make it happen.
Souvenirs For Your Organization
- Like Rolly Crump, how do you seize opportunities to do things you haven’t done before.
- Just as Walt went from a Tea Room to a show room, how do you allow good ideas to evolve until you get the right product or service.
- Do you have a team of people gathered together to make the impossible possible?
- Are your products and service fresh and alive or are they like the Tiki Room decades later, looking like bird dust and chicken wire?
- When “under the wire” how resourceful are you in using your resources when hit up by deadlines?
Jim Korkis Needs Your Help!
The 72-year-old, internationally-respected Disney historian who has authored thousands of articles and dozens of books about all things Disney. He has also been a guest on several Disney Insight Podcasts. Moreover, he’s been a friend for years. Jim is now struggling with a series of major medical issues and is in need of financial help to pay his bills. We invite you to help!