“Tropical birds, Tikis and flowers spring to life in the Enchanted Tiki Room, a musical fantasy recalling legends of the South Seas.” – Walt Disney’s DISNEYLAND a pictorial souvenir and guide (1963)
An instant icon upon its opening on June 23, 1963, the Enchanted Tiki Room continues to immerse guests in a tropical hideaway as they sing along with the show. Since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Walt Disney pushed the boundaries of technology and immersion. After returning from a trip with a small mechanical caged bird, Walt asked his Imagineers if they could animate its mouth by combining movement with sound. The innovative team used audio recordings on magnetic tape that, when played back, triggers vibration of a metal reed. This eventually causes a pneumatic valve to open, along with the bird’s mouth (for example). And thus, the Audio-Animatronic was born!
A World of Joyous Songs and Wondrous Miracles
With Hawaii becoming a state in 1959, the popularity of tropical restaurants, and the ease of plane travel, a Polynesian-themed attraction was a natural choice for 1960’s Adventureland. Originally designed to be a restaurant, Walt eventually decided that it would function better as a show.
Before the attraction, guests enter a lush pre-show area with large Tikis sculpted by Imagineer Rolly Crump. In his book, It’s Kind of a Cute Story, Rolly admits that he had never actually sculpted before. Using plasticine clay, he had to work out in the parking lot to keep the clay warm enough to mold. “It gets even better, you know what I sculpted with? A plastic fork! One I got right out of the Studio’s cafeteria,” states Rolly. Eventually, molds were created from the sculptures, and fiberglass structures were made to withstand outdoor wear and tear.
Please Place Your Eyes Into the Center—Of the Room, That Is
Rolly worked on the interior of the attraction as well, creating a “wunderbar” rotating bird mobile that would serve as the centerpiece for the show. As the room was nearing completion, the drummers’ previous dull demeanor was brought to life when Rolly added sparkling gems to their eyes. “When they beat their drums, these sparkles would move and start flickering due to the vibrations. It looked like their eyes were twinkling. It did wonders, and really enhanced the whole show, in my opinion,” he remembers.
All the Birds Sing Words and the Flowers Croon
The unforgettable Tiki Room theme song was written by the legendary Sherman Brothers, who also gave us—among many others—Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious, It’s a Small World, and Winnie the Pooh. Catchy and playful, the theme song gave rise to José, Michael, Fritz, and Pierre, the colorful bird emcees of the musical. Realistic with a touch of character, many of the birds, flowers, and totems were designed by Disney legend Marc Davis. Sculptor Blaine Gibson and model maker Harriet Burns brought the fanciful birds to life. To emulate the look of breathing, Harriet created a woven fabric that allowed for lifelike expanding and contracting in the birds’ chests.
Pay Attention—It’s Showtime
Upon it’s opening in 1963, entrance into the Tiki Room was not included in the Disneyland ticket books. Thankfully, an Audio-Animatronic Barker Bird located outside the entryway hollered to guests about the wonders inside, surely worth a separate admission price! Barker Bird Juan entranced people so much that a traffic jam was soon caused my mesmerized park goers wanting to learn more of the mechanics behind this vibrant parrot. Juan had to be removed, but you can still hear his cousin, José (both voiced by Disney legend Wally Boag) in the attraction.
Farewell, and Aloha to You!
After 60 years, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room remains a fan favorite. Thanks to an extensive refurbishment in 2004, all birds and animatronics were meticulously restored, from feathers to inner mechanics. The 2005 discovery of original recordings lead to a soundtrack restoration as well as an updated audio system. Although the show is a bit shorter than its 1963 counterpart, the attraction remains mostly unchanged today. Ok, who wants to grab a Dole Whip and wake up José?!
[Quotes from Rolly Crump are taken from It’s Kind of a Cute Story by Rolly Crump as told by Jeff Heimbuch. Please check out this excellent book for more Disneyland history and other cute stories!]