50 years ago, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room first opened to the public. While Disneyland was already entertaining guests with top quality attractions, the Tiki Room was unlike anything seen before.
The show was a technological marvel of its time, using then state-of-the-art computers to create characters that talked, moved and even breathed in a lifelike way. Five decades and countless performances later, we're taking a look at 10 fascinating facts about the place where the birds sing and the flowers croon.
It Was the First Attraction to Use Audio-Animatronics
Earlier Disney attractions featured characters that could wave their arms, turn their heads or perform other simple movements. But The Enchanted Tiki Room featured the first use of true audio-animatronics. The birds, flowers, and statues of the Tiki Room perform a series of complex movements throughout the show, all in synch with the soundtrack.
The Hawaiian Theme Inspired Sponsors
Many of the Disney parks attractions have had outside sponsors to help with the costs of developing and maintaining them. When The Enchanted Tiki Room first opened, it was sponsored by United Airlines. United was running a special promotion on flights to the then new state of Hawaii when the Disneyland attraction opened, so a show with a Polynesian flair was an excellent advertising tool for the airline.
In 1976, Dole took over sponsorship and has been the show's sponsor ever since. They also provide the famous Dole Whip treats available at the snack bar near the Tiki Room entrance.
The Enchanted Tiki Dining Room?
The Enchanted Tiki Room was originally going to be a dinner show, where guests would be entertained by the animatronic birds as they ate. The fountain at the center of the room would have been a coffee station.
However, the logistics of combining such a technically complex show with a fully functioning restaurant made the idea impractical. The restaurant was scrapped and the Tiki Room became a food-free attraction.
Chilling With the Birds
The Enchanted Tiki Room was Disneyland's first fully air conditioned building. While giving park guests a break from the California heat was an added bonus, the real reason for keeping the building cool was to ensure that the computers that kept the show running didn't overheat.
As José shows in this behind the scenes footage, the Tiki Room backstage was state-of-the-art for its time.
Your Four Feathered Hosts
55 audio-animatronic birds are perched among the rafters of the Tiki Room, including toucans, cockatoos and other tropical birds. The four main characters are a quartet of macaws.
José was voiced by legendary Disney entertainer Wally Boag, who wrote the majority of the script for the attraction and performed for years in Disney's Golden Horseshoe Revue. Fulton Burley, one of Boag's Golden Horseshoe costars, voiced Michael; actor and voiceover performer Ernie Newton plays Pierre and Thurl Ravenscroft, a Disney parks regular and voice of Tony the tiger, gave Fritz his distinctive accent.
Flags of Our Feathers
Since the show's debut, the four main macaws have all had distinctive accents. Their appearances, however, have changed over the years and at times their plumage has matched the flags of the countries they supposedly hail from.
Mexican José sports red, white and green feathers. Michael, who speaks with an Irish brogue, is green and white with a little bit of orange. Pierre wears red, white and blue feathers, but as you may have guessed from his name, he hails from France rather than the U.S. Fritz, the German bird, is red, black and white.
Music of the Tiki Room
Music is a major component of the Enchanted Tiki Room. The show uses several existing songs, including 'Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing,' 'Hawaiian War Chant' and a version of 'Heigh-Ho' from 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' with modified lyrics. But the best known of the Tiki Room songs is its signature tune 'In The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room,' written by Robert and Richard Sherman.
You may not know the Sherman Brothers by name, but you almost certainly know their work. Among the Disney films they scored are 'The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,' 'Mary Poppins,' 'The Aristocats' and 'The Jungle Book.'
The Disney World Version Once Featured 'Aladdin' Characters
At its opening in 1971, Walt Disney World had its own version of The Enchanted Tiki Room. The attraction was called 'Tropical Serenade' and featured a unique pre-show, but was otherwise identical to its Disneyland counterpart.
Tropical Serenade remained until 1998, when it became 'The Enchanted Tiki Room: (Under New Management).' The "new management" part refers to Iago from 'Aladdin' and Zazu from 'The Lion King,' who have taken over the Tiki Room.
Iago finds the classic show outdated and plans to revamp it, while Zazu warns him not to anger the Tiki Gods. Iago doesn't listen and faces the wrath of Uh-Oa, the Tiki goddess of disaster. The attraction featured some of the classic songs along with modern ones, including 'Friend Like Me' from 'Aladdin.'
Iago Was on Fire?
In August of 2011, the Disney World Tiki Room reopened as 'Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room.' The 'Aladdin' elements from the 'Under New Management' version of the show were removed and the original story and soundtrack were restored.
There may have been various reasons for the change, but one interesting possibility involves a small fire at the attraction in January of 2011. No guests were, hurt thankfully, but some of the animatronic figures were damaged by the sprinkler system and it's rumored that the Iago figure was completely ruined. Was it a freak accident, or did the curse of Uh-Oa finally kick Iago out of the Tiki Room once and for all?
The Tokyo Tiki Room
Tokyo Disneyland has its own version of the Tiki Room, which has undergone its share of changes over the years. Starting out as a clone of the original attraction, the Tokyo Tiki Room closed in 1999 and reopened under the name The Enchanted Tiki Room: Now Playing: 'Get The Fever!' The new Tiki Room was less a laid back Polynesian musical revue and more a high energy Vegas nightclub show.
'Get The Fever!' ran for nine years before closing for yet another refurbishment. The current version of Tokyo's Tiki Room, shown in the video above, returns to the tropical theme, but adds a newer Disney character into the mix. 'The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!' has the star of 'Lilo and Stitch' bedeviling the Tiki Room birds as they try to put on their show.