July 27, 2009

In the Tiki TIki Tiki Room....

Opening on June 23, 1963, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room was the first show to feature Audio-Animatronics. The attraction was sponsored by United Airlines for its first 12 years. In 1976, sponsorship passed over to Hawaii's Dole Food Company, which remains the sponsor to the present day.
The attraction was at first separated from Disneyland insofar as Walt Disney personally owned it through his own company, WED Enterprises, instead of the rest of Disneyland which was and still is owned by the Walt Disney Company (then Walt Disney Productions). The show was originally going to be a restaurant featuring Audio-Animatronic birds serenading guests as they ate and drank. The "magic fountain" at the room's center was originally planned as a coffee station and the restaurant would have shared its kitchen with the now-defunct Tahitian Terrace in Adventureland and the Plaza Pavilion restaurant at the corner of Main Street, U.S.A. since all three are actually part of the same building. Since ownership of the attraction was separate from the rest of the park, a nominal admission charge of $0.75 was levied.
Since computers have played a central role in the attraction since its inception, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room was also Disneyland's first fully air-conditioned building. The attraction opened in an era when all things Polynesian were popular and was an immediate hit. It houses a Hawaiian-themed musical show "hosted" by four lifelike macaws whose plumage matches their implied countries of origin. "José" is red, white and green and speaks with a Mexican accent, voiced by Wally Boag; "Michael" is white and green with an Irish brogue, voiced by Fulton Burley; "Pierre" is blue, white and red, and has a French accent courtesy of the voice talents of Ernie Newton while red, black and white "Fritz" has a German accent provided by Thurl Ravenscroft, who also voices Hawaiian god "Tangaroa" near the attraction's entrance. The main birds have changed color over the years. In 1965, the four host birds had almost identical plumage of white, green, yellow and blue. The four macaws as well as all the other birds are plumed with real feathers with the exception of chest plumage. The chests are covered in custom-woven cashmere which allows the figures to "breathe" in a lifelike manner. The choice came quite by accident; in a planning meeting, Harriet Burns noticed a cashmere sweater that Walt Disney was wearing which moved at the elbows exactly the way the engineers envisioned.
The presentation features a "cast" of over 150 talking, singing and dancing birds, flowers, the aforementioned magic fountain, tiki drummers and tiki totem poles that perform the attraction's signature tunes, "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" by the Sherman Brothers and "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing". The finale has every Audio-Animatronic figure performing a rousing version of "'Hawaiian War Chant". So innovative was the technology by 1963 standards that an Audio-Animatronic talking "barker" bird (Juan, cousin of José) once located near the walkway to beckon visitors inside caused enormous traffic jams of visitors trying to catch a glimpse of it.
While waiting outside in a lanai area for the show to start, visitors are serenaded by Hawaiian music which at one time included that of Martin Denny and Bud Tutmarc. Hawaiian gods are represented as well around the perimeter of the lanai and each has a story to tell via Audio-Animatronics. A brief documentary of the history of the pineapple is presented as well. The story, filmed in the early 1960s and updated at the end with a Macromedia Flash presentation of a parade of Dole products, is shown on a screen on the rear of the roof of the Dole snack bar at the entrance to the lanai. Other than the removal of a minor musical number set to the "Barcarolle" and the final verse of "Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing", the show has remained otherwise unchanged since its 1963 inception due to a stipulation in the sponsorship contract with Dole that the attraction remain unchanged. One chorus of "Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing" has José crooning like Bing Crosby, Fritz scat-singing in a gravelly voice like that of Louis Armstrong and Pierre singing like Maurice Chevalier. The attraction nevertheless remains popular.
The show re-opened in March 2005 with the original seats for crowds after a seven-month refurbishment, commissioned by new Disneyland management in a bid to restore the park to its former glory for its 50th birthday. Feathers were regularly falling out of the Audio-Animatronics, the thatched roof of the building was breaking away in broad daylight, and the movements of the Audio-Animatronics were noisy and slow. After the renovation, the original show and storyline remained but with a digitally remastered audio. A new sound system both indoors and out, and completely new Audio-Animatronics. These look the same as the previous ones, but have a completely different infrastructure. Updates in technology allowed Walt Disney Imagineering to create a show to satisfy 21st century expectations while retaining its classic look and feel. The original Tiki Room was controlled by a large room full of floor to ceiling computers which operated the birds with data on magnetic tapes, which was located underneath the floor of the main show room.
Thats it for today, tomorrow we will cover the Magic Kingdom version of the Tiki Room, then on Wednesday we will cover the Tokyo version, including the new Stitch, and finally on Thursday and Friday we will do Pics and Pins of Tikis and Birds...

1 comment:

  1. This show never gets the credit it deserves. Great post.