July 2013 update: Tiki Room celebrates 50 years of enchantment
Modern Retro Disney World: Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
Aug. 2011 update: Disney World’s updated Enchanted Tiki Room has retro feel
Whatever (or whoever) started a fire in Walt Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room back in January may have inadvertently set off a chain of events that has corrected one of the biggest blunders in the history of theme park attraction renovations.
Closed for the past seven months, the iconic attraction is scheduled to reopen Aug. 15 with a new animatronic show that pays tribute to the original attraction, which was a pet project of Walt himself. To the delight of many hardcore fans, the oft-reviled “Under New Management” theme has been ditched (for good, hopefully). Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King have been replaced by José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre – the four crooning parrot hosts who have been entertaining guests at California’s Disneyland since 1963.
The redesign of Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room was announced in May at Disney’s “D23 Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th Anniversary Conference,” a special event for members of Disney’s D23 fan club (D23 refers to Disney and 1923, the year the company was founded). The Aug. 15 date was officially announced by Disney World on Tuesday.
Disney World’s 40th anniversary is now in full swing, and the past few months have seen some very cool retro artwork and memorabilia releases in conjunction with the celebration. Next week we’ll take a look at the artwork of Shag and Kevin Kidney, two of our favorite contemporary artists, and what they’ve created for Disney World’s 40th birthday.
The original Enchanted Tiki Room in Anaheim was the first to feature Audio-Animatronics, a patented form of robotics created by Walt Disney’s legendary artists and engineers (he dubbed them Imagineers) for the park’s shows and attractions. Walt was reportedly so blown away by the 150 animated characters created by the Imagineers that he ditched plans to make the Tiki Room a tropical-themed restaurant and instead turned it into a full-fledged attraction. (Some 60 years later, Disneyland finally has an animatronic Tiki bar, the recently opened Trader Sam’s in the Disneyland Hotel.)
The Enchanted Tiki Room was a landmark breakthrough in theme park attractions. The Disneyland show still operates virtually unchanged since 1963 (it was refurbished in 2005 for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary) and is beloved for nostalgic reasons as well as its influence on the current Tiki revivalists.
When Walt Disney World opened in 1971 in Orlando, The Enchanted Tiki Room debuted in the Magic Kingdom with a show called “Tropical Serenade.” It was similar to the Disneyland attraction but with a different pre-show (a waterfall with Audio-Animatronic toucans). After 26 years, the show closed in September 1997 and reopened in April 1998 as “The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management” featuring the annoying voice of Gilbert Gottfried as Iago.
Critics bashed the attraction repeatedly over the years. One poster on TikiCentral.com wrote: “It made me sick what Disney did to the Enchanted Tiki Room in The Magic Kingdom.” Another wrote: “While the WDW Tiki room still looks great on the outside, and plays Martin Denny in the preshow area, sadly the show SUCKS.”
Disney’s history of changing Tiki Room shows is not good. The only other Enchanted Tiki Room in the wordwide Disney parks is in Tokyo Disneyland, where the attraction has gone through several overhauls since opening in 1983. The latest revamp, in 2008, replaced a “madcap Las Vegas-style nightclub show” with one featuring Stitch from Lilo and Stitch. Let’s hope they eventually return to the original show as well.
At Disney World, luckily, fate stepped in. A small fire broke out in the The Enchanted Tiki Room on Jan. 12, forcing guests to evacuate. The fire reportedly started in the attic of the attraction in the Adventureland area of the Magic Kingdom. Firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading beyond the attic, and the building’s sprinkler system went off, helping to extinguish the flames. No one was injured.
There were never any reports, official or unofficial, of what started the fire. But several blogs have reported that the main Iago figure was damaged beyond repair (yay!) and that the Birdmobile and Zazu figures suffered extensive water damage. It’s possible that plans were already in the works to update the Enchanted Tiki Room for the 40th anniversary, but it’s clear that the fire made it absolutely necessary. And it perhaps led to a bigger overhaul than was originally planed.
The 2005 rehab of the original attraction was a big success. Disneyland took seven months to refurbish its Tiki Room and now, seven months after closing, we’re seeing the reopening in Orlando. (Coincidentally, the 1997-98 overhaul also took seven months.)
After the fire in Orlando, many bloggers and Disney fans called for a restoration of the attraction to the original show to celebrate Disney World’s 40th anniversary. It’s possible Disney recognized the interest in the 40th anniversary from hardcore fans as well as the growing fascination with retro culture and its own icons. Cheesy or not, The Enchanted Tiki Room is certainly one of these icons and worthy of historic preservation.
Prior to 1963, Walt Disney’s creative team had produced movable figures, but none had the sophistication of the Tiki Room. José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre produce movements when coils hidden inside them receive signals recorded onto magnetic tape. They are regarded as the first true Audio-Animatronics figures. They introduce a musical presentation by more than 200 birds, flowers and Tikis.
In 2009, Disney switched to an updated version of the technology called Autonomatronics, which will likely be featured in the updated attraction in Orlando. Among the enhancements being touted are a state-of-the-art show-control system, remastered audio and new lighting system.
Check back for updates plus a review and photos of the new attraction.
Enchanted Tiki Room guides
Enchanted Tiki Room news and history
Remembering Wally Boag
The voice of José passed away recently at the age of 90
The Architect of Delight
Famed Imagineer Rolly Crump on talking birds, small worlds, and the legacy of uncle Walt
Uploaded in 2006
Uploaded in 2006