Ever since the fire broke out in the Enchanted Tiki Room-Under New Management on January 12, 2011, much conjecture on what its return would be was rampant. It was announced at the D-23 Walt Disney World 40th anniversary conference that it would return to its original show format, as in Disneyland. On a personal note, I am very happy. I love the classic attractions, and this certainly qualifies as one. After all, this is the first successful Audio- Animatronic show at Disneyland, utilizing new technologies. The show which is identical to the Disneyland venue, opened at Walt Disney World in 1971, with a different entrance queue and larger show area. The name of the new show was the “Tropical Serenade”
The production was an immediate hit, but after a few years, it became a bit tame in the face of Splash Mountain and other faster, more thrilling rides, attendance dropped off. In an attempt to freshen up the show, it was closed on September 1, 1997 for a complete makeover. It returned in April of 1998; there was a new show awaiting the guests.
In addition to the original four birds, Fritz, Michael, Pierre and Jose, two new additions, Iago (Voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) from Aladdin and Zazu (Voiced by Michael Gough) from The Lion King took over as the new owners of the show. The pre-show, set in a waterfall shrine setting outside the queue line had the two Macaws, William and Morris letting the guests in on the new goings-on. But this show really never caught on. The new owners actually made fun of the previous slow-moving show, and despite the addition of the god Uh Oa, the Tiki God of Disaster who rises up from the center of the room to zap Lago for boasting about the new show, many guests preferred the old classic.
The history behind the Enchanted Tiki Room is magical and fascinating. Walt Disney was always enthralled by technology and new ideas. He loved gadgets and was always looking to bring this new science to his studio, and Disneyland. Witness the synchronized sound cartoon Steamboat Willie, or the use of color (Flowers and Trees!) in cartoons, or the Multiplane camera. The problem was Walt was so far ahead of his time, the current technology could not support some of his ideas. Long before Disneyland, he had an idea to make figures move in time to sound tracks, but again, the tech of the day was lacking. There was to be a Chinese Restaurant in Disneyland and the first try at an Audio-Animatronic human figure was attempted by Imagineers Wathel Rogers and Roger Broggie. The figure of Confucius, who would entertain guests as they walked by, was again a failure due to the limits of technology.
One day on vacation in New Orleans, Walt discovered a small mechanical bird in a shop. This bird sang and moved its wings and beak. Walt was amazed and purchased the bird and brought it back to his Imagineers to unwrap its secrets. The team soon had full-sized birds moving in a life-like manner. Walt decided that a restaurant with these new Tropical Birds interacting with the guests would be a huge hit. A new eatery with a South Seas theme called the “Tiki Hut” was envisioned. But because of space and logistics, the new eatery was never built. But from this idea, the Enchanted Tiki Room was born.
After much planning, the new show opened on June 23, 1963 in Disneyland. It opened when the Polynesian Motif was popular. The show had four Macaws, from four different countries. Their feathers actually matched their country of origin. “Fritz” (Voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft) was from Germany, sported Black, white and red. “Jose” (Voiced by Wally Boag), wore the colors red, white and green of Mexico, Michael (Voiced by Fulton Burley) wears white and green for Ireland and “Pierre” is blue, white and red, and has a French accent , voiced by Ernie Newton. Note… Thurl Ravenscroft also voiced the Hawaiian God “Tangaroa” at the entrance. The bird’s plumage has changed over time. Since 1965, the four birds now don blue, green, yellow and white. These feathers are real with the exception of the chest. For a more realistic breathing movement, the Imagineers used cashmere, which translates more life-like appearance.
In addition to the four host birds, the attraction also features singing flowers, dancing birds, Tiki drummers, a magic fountain in the middle of the show and Tiki totem poles which sing the shows tunes. The Sherman Brothers wrote the iconic feature song “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room”, and along with “Let’s all sing Like the Birdies Sing” the attraction was a hit. But remember, this was 1963. This was new ground in technology and many guests had no idea what to expect in the new show. Trying to explain singing flowers and birds did not get the message across. So Disney placed a “Barker Bird” outside the entrance (A copy of Jose, “Juan” was his cousin!) to acquaint passing guests as to what to expect inside. But he was such a success, throngs of people milled around to see and listen, making the walkway impassable. Once the show gained a following, “Juan” was retired.
Before the show, guests waited on an outside lanai area, listening to Hawaiian music, at one time by Bud Tutmarc and Martin Denny. And to keep the guests entertained while the 17 minute show was going on inside, several Hawaiian “Gods” were around the perimeter of the lanai area. These Gods enthralled the guest with stories of their existence was well as a short history of the pineapple. Some of the Gods were Tangaroa, father of all the Gods, Hina Kuluua, goddess of rain and Maui, who roped the sun.
Once inside, a cast member would wake up Jose, and begin the show. The four birds would then speak to the guests. The hosts would sing “Let’s all sing like the Birdies Sing” (Written by Robert Hargreaves, Stanley J. Damerell and Tolchard Evans). This was followed by a chorus of birds from a “Bird Mobile” from the middle of the ceiling, later the tropical flowers would chime in. Polynesian chants were recited by the Tiki Gods, and finally because of all the noise and celebrations, the Gods were angered and awakened. It was an amazing site to behold in 1963!
The first sponsors of the Tiki room were United Airlines and they did so for 12 years. In 1976 the Dole Food Company replaced United and sponsors it to this day. It’s interesting to note that the attraction was not owned by the Walt Disney Company, but by WED Enterprises, a private company of Walt’s. In the beginning, you had to pay 75 cents to see the show.
In 2004, the show in Disneyland closed for a total rehab. After more than 40 years, wear and tear began to show. The feathers were falling off the birds, the audio-animatronics were becoming noisy and slower, even the thatched roof of the building was letting daylight through. After a seven month repair, the original show and storyline remained but with a digitally re-mastered audio (By Randy Thornton, who produced A Musical History of Disneyland in 2005), a new sound system both indoors and out, and completely new Audio-Animatronics. Using modern technology, the show was restored to its former grandeur, but retaining its classic looks and feel. The show has been shorted a bit, but most will not notice the missing omissions. The original Tiki Room was controlled by a room full of floor-to-ceiling computers that operated the birds with files on magnetic tapes, which was located underneath the floor of the main show room.
This brings us back to Walt Disney World. Since it is so successful in Disneyland, an identical copy of the show was on hand in 1971, as previously mentioned, and named the Tropical Serenade. It would cost guests a “D” ticket (For those fortunate to remember those “Ticket Days”!) to see the show. The attraction differed from Disneyland in the fact it was much larger inside, the queue area is a three-lined affair with a waterfall preshow. A waterfall is cascading over a rotund rock outcropping. Soon the doors part and the two Macaws explain what’s going on inside.
The new rehabbed show is now named “Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room” is identical to Disneyland’s, except a little shorter in length, about 11 minutes. The show area looks almost identical, everything is fresh and bright. The fountain that Uh Oa came out is changed, and she is no longer a part of the show; and Iago and Zazu are thankfully absent as well. As I stated before, the attraction has come full circle.
Walt was never a man to rest on his laurels, and he never believed in making sequels. His famous statement… “You can’t top pigs with pigs!” (Stating his reluctance to make sequels of the Three Little Pigs) reflected this thinking. Certain classic attractions should always remain that. Disney has restored this classic to Walt’s original idea. Not only did Walt personally work on this show, it marked the beginning of all the attractions we now enjoy at all the Disney parks. It’s a Disney historical treasure.
Here are some interesting facts about the attraction…There are four Totem Poles, eight Macaws, 20 assorted tropical birds, 12 Toucans, 9 Forktail birds, 24 singing Masks, 12 Tiki drummers, six cockatoos, seven birds of paradise and 54 Singing orchids. The designer of the show is WED Enterprises, sponsored by Dole Foods, the show is 15 minutes and 36 seconds long and the preshow is thee minutes and 58 seconds. Make sure you attend the new show your next trip to the world, you’ll be glad you did.
Contributed by: Bill I. (NDH #35). Bill is our resident historian.