Thea Awards Recipients

Thea Awards 2014

2014 Thea Classic Award

The Enchanted Tiki Room

Image 1/3: 2014 Thea Classic Award: The Enchanted Tiki Room
Image 2/3: 2014 Thea Classic Award: The Enchanted Tiki Room
Image 3/3: 2014 Thea Classic Award: The Enchanted Tiki Room

BY JEANINE YAMANAKA OF ALLEARS.NET (with gracious editorial assistance from WDI)

Where the Birds Sing Words & the Flowers Croon

In 1963, Disneyland opened a new attraction--”Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room”--which, from the first utterance of “wahine e o keonimana,” ushered in a new era of themed entertainment. 

The perfect marriage of technology and entertainment, the groundbreaking attraction featured the first use of Audio-Animatronics technology, a three-dimensional animation system that brought to life the show’s cast of 225 talking birds, singing flowers and chanting tiki idols. The Enchanted Tiki Room laid the groundwork for a new age of theme park attractions starring swashbuckling pirates, friendly cars and even the presidents of the United States of America. Today, more than 50 years later, the Tiki Room continues to enchant Disneyland guests every day. 

The idea for the attraction was the merging of two concepts Walt Disney and his Imagineers had been working on for several years. The first began with Walt’s purchase of a small mechanical bird in a cage from an antique store in New Orleans (it can still be seen in working condition at the Walt Disney Archives). Impressed with its delicate capacity to sing and move, he brought it back to his stable of Imagineers at WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) for them to analyze and recreate in other forms with current technology. Magnetic recording tape was used to synchronize movements and audio that could be rewound and replayed to exact duplication throughout multiple shows a day. This combination of animation and sound was dubbed Audio-Animatronics technology.

The second idea was for a new dining complex straddling the border between Main Street, U.S.A. and Adventureland that would feature three restaurants: the Plaza Pavilion, the Tahitian Terrace and the first reservation-only eatery at Disneyland. Referred to in a 1962 pamphlet as “The Bird Room,” this restaurant would feature realistic birds that performed right over the tables of diners. After a mock-up of the idea on a soundstage at the Walt Disney Studios, it became clear that diners would become so enamored with the animated birds and flowers that they would never finish their meals in a timely manner. Capacity at the restaurant would be too low to make it work. 

The restaurant was designed in a cross shape with four wings and a central open serving space, so Imagineers simply removed the tables, reconfigured the chairs into a theater in the round (the original restaurant chairs continued to be used in the attraction at Disneyland for several years), added a fountain where the serving area was and reimagined the concept as a show that would host three performances an hour. 

The quality of the attraction should come as no surprise, given that it was designed and developed by a who’s who of Imagineering legends, all under the watchful eye of Walt Disney himself. Among those contributing were John Hench, Collin Campbell, Rolly Crump, Harriet Burns, Joyce Carlson, Glendra Von Kessel, Lee Toombs, Marty Sklar, Roger Broggie, Wathel Rogers, Bill Cottrell and, in his first major project after coming over from animation, Marc Davis. They were assisted by Studio story writer Larry Clemmons, songwriter Jimmie Dodd (who had been the head Mouseketeer on the 1950s television show The Mickey Mouse Club), Disney staff composer George Bruns and writers and performers Wally Boag and Fulton Burley, who at that time were starring in the “Golden Horseshow Revue” at Disneyland.

The final piece of the puzzle was provided by the songwriting team of Richard and Robert Sherman, who were asked by Walt to write a song that explained the whole show. Not only did they write the now familiar and famous “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room,” they suggested the song be sung by a colorful parrot who would also host the show. Walt went them one better. He suggested four parrots, each with a different nationality and personality. The result was Pierre, Fritz, Michael and José, whose awakening by a Tiki Room cast member starts the show. 

Unlike most of the attractions at Disneyland at that time, the Tiki Room was owned and operated by Walt Disney himself. That meant  admission was not included in Disneyland ticket books. Guests had to purchase a separate 75¢ ticket (50¢ for children) during the first of operation until ownership of the attraction changed and the show became an “E” coupon Disneyland attraction. To attract passers-by that first year, an Audio-Animatronics “Barker Bird” was installed outside the entrance to “pitch” the show. Unfortunately, he proved to be a little too successful as admiring guests blocked the entrance to Adventureland and he was subsequently removed. 

The original Enchanted Tiki Room show was 17 minutes. In the 1990s, one of the songs was trimmed and the show was shortened to under 14 minutes, enabling more shows to be performed each day. In 2005, as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Disneyland, the attraction underwent an extensive restoration that included a digitally remastered score, new sound system, and updated infrastructure. 

For over fifty years, the birds in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room have been exhorting us to “sing like the birdies sing,” and just like the original caged bird Walt bought all those years ago, they show no signs of stopping. 

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