History, Theme Parks

What do you get when you take the timeless classic of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and add in a mix of crude humour, self-depreciation jokes and a style that’s painfully 90s? You get “The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management”. The 90’s at Disney can be characterised in a few ways, we were seeing unprecedented expansion of the Disney parks right in the middle of the Disney decade, we had experienced the extreme failure of Euro Disneyland and the Disney Parks were all about squeezing Disney characters into places they don’t really belong or were needed. The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management was designed to breathe some life back into an ageing attraction ultimately though it’s misguided attempts have gone down in history as one of Disney’s worst ever permanent attraction overlays. But in order to take a look into the disaster that was Under New Management, we need to step back in time almost 40 years before it’s opening and look at what Walt was dreaming up for Disneyland.

From Disneyland to Magic Kingdom

In 1959 Hawaii officially become the United States of America’s fiftieth state and suddenly all the tropical, exotic wonders of the South Pacific became all the rage. People had always wanted a piece of a lush, tropical beach paradise and Hawaii suddenly made it feel attainable. Walt wanted to bring a piece of this Polynesian Pie to Disneyland and his original idea was a full-service restaurant with guests dining below tropical birds and plants (though he did have to ensure his Imagineers that these birds would be mechanical so as they didn’t “Poop in the food”.) Ultimately it was decided though that it wasn’t the most appetizing thing to be dining beneath a plethora of birds (Even robotic ones) and the idea for the restaurant was eventually scrapped.

The Enchanted Tiki Room that did eventually open on the 23rd of June 1964 was a marvel for the time, featuring the first ever use of the now famous Disney technology “Audio-Animatronics”. This technology at the time was so futuristic to guests that outside the attraction sat a “Barker Bird” which stopped them in their tracks, actively blocking the entrance of Adventureland. The Enchanted Tiki Room was instantly a smash hit, even with its high ticket price of 75 cents (Compared to E-Ticket attractions at the time such as the Matterhorn which were only 50 cents). So when Imagineers were designing Walt Disney World it was obvious that the enchanting bird-chorus would have a place of honour in the new Magic Kingdom and opened with the park on October 1st 1971, with very little changes made to the show from it’s Disneyland counterpart apart from the name change to “Tropical Serenade”. Magic Kingdom’s version of The Tiki Room played for over 25 years until all of a sudden it was closed for “renovations and updating” on the 1st of September 1997

Changes Were Coming

In the 35 years since The Tiki Room and at the approach of the new millennium it’s understandable to imagine that audiences were no longer as enthralled at the singing and dancing bird animatronics. Both versions of the attraction would see changes to try to appeal more so to the 21st Century attention spans. The Disneyland version would see the length of its show cut from 18 minutes down to 14, cutting out much of the fluff. So when it was announced around the same time that the Magic Kingdom’s Tropical Serenade would also see an upcoming closure, people were intrigued as to its future. What would happen to the attraction, would it’s run-time be slashed like Disneyland’s, would it simply be gone and forgotten like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea or would something entirely different happen? Not too trusting of Disney at the time fans feared the worse, and their fears turned out to be in some ways realised. Disney believed that to reinvigorate the ageing Tiki Room they could call on the help of two birds that had recently entered their portfolio through two of Disney’s most successful films ever. 8 months after the initial closure the Sunshine Pavilion reopened, with very little changes to the exterior apart from a new sign out the front. “The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management” officially opened to guests on the 5th of April 1998.

What was Under New Management?

Waiting outside the attraction guests are treated to a new pre-show in which two Toucans (Voiced by legends Don Rickles and Phil Hartman) are discussing their new position as agents of the Tiki Room’s new owners. As a Cast Member informs them that the guests are about to be let in the birds become enraged as their clients have not yet entered the theatre but guests were ushered in any way. As guests get comfortable in their seats they are greeted by a familiar sight, a Cast Member wakes up Jose who, as before, awakens his co-hosts Michael, Pierre and Fritz who proceed to “Wake up the glee club”. Instantly the Tiki Room is filled with chirping, flapping and tweeting in a most familiar way. As you start to listen to the opening of the show through a loud grating sound started to come through on the soundtrack, less than half a minute into one of the most well-known Disney Park songs of all time the incessant racket gets louder and louder until the source of the noise emerges – Iago, Jafar’s sidekick from Aladdin. As he lowers down on a central perch (Looking cartoonishly different to the rest of the birds) he demands that everyone “Stop the music, STOP THE MUSIC!” in a harshly grating voice that only Gilbert Gottfried can pull off. If you didn’t at this stage know that this is a very different version of the Tiki Room it wasn’t long before Iago told you that if the music didn’t stop he was “Gonna toss my crackers!”.

Before too long a voice of reason emerges, who happens to be Zazu the uptight Hornbill from The Lion King (Though here voiced by Michael Gough instead of Rowan Atkinson as in the film). Zazu exclaims to “Be warned, Iago, you cannot toy with the Enchanted Tiki Room!” Though this defense of the Tiki Room falls on deaf ears as Iago proceeds to call the tiki birds “Birdbrains” and exclaims that as he and Zazu have now purchased the Tiki Room the birds better not get too attached to their old songs, if they want to keep their jobs, they’ve got to get hip… (Because if there’s one thing Disney was good at in the 90’s it was making things “hip”). Not wanting to heed Zazu’s advice Iago proceeds to sing a Parody of Friend Like Me from Aladdin featuring lines such as “You are boring Tiki birds, I’m a big cele-birdy” and “It’s a whole new world, so you better get hip. Or your audience will disappear!”. As the song finishes and the birds tweet and warn in terror Zazu reminds Iago that the Tiki gods are always listening, but of course, Iago doesn’t care about those “Tiki-tacky, Polynesian, pineapple-pickin’, wood-for-brains, moron Tiki gods!” As you can imagine the Tiki gods didn’t take too kindly to being spoken about like this and the totems around the room come alive chanting for Uh-Oa, the goddess of disaster, who arises from the ceremonial bowl in the centre of the room (as a rather impressive animatronic) and understandably she is not too impressed with Iago’s insults. With a wave of her hand and a sinister “Aloha”, she sends Iago flying disappearing in a puff of smoke. He then reappears burnt to a crisp and on crutches but declares the Tiki Room under his management to be a rousing success and proclaims that “This place is gonna be a gold mine!” The show finishes with a high energy conga of “Feeling Hot Hot Hot” as Iago utters the most infamous line of the entire show “Boy I’m tired! I think I’ll head over to the Hall of Presidents and take a nap”. Zazu encourages this with “Right, off you go!” sending Iago away (Something the audience has probably wanted to happen since this mess started”. And that was what guests experienced from The Tiki Room: Under New Management, another example of a misguided attempt to infuse Disney characters and “Hip-ness” in places it didn’t really belong.

What Happened Next?

For Children of the 90’s, this was their Tiki Room, it’s the show they knew and grew to love and to be honest it isn’t close to the worst ever attraction Disney has ever made nor even a terrible attraction objectively. It was a light-hearted, though probably too self-referential and easily dated, overlay that could have infused new life into an Opening Day attraction. The biggest problem was that the new show didn’t exist in a vacuum, it replaced a long-time beloved family favourite attraction. The Tiki Room was one of the few Magic Kingdom attractions Walt Disney himself worked on and he created a timeless classic that didn’t need the “modern” humour styling Under New Management brought. Whilst it may have got some initial laughs from the crowd, it was never going to become a  classic Disney attraction like the original. If it was created as a temporary seasonal overlay (Like Country Bear Jamboree Summer Vacation) it could have been excusable but as a permanent replacement for Tropical Serenade, it instantly gave itself a death sentence. A death sentence that was fulfilled in a different way to what you might expect.

On the 12th of January 2011, a fire broke out in the attic of the Sunshine Pavilion at the Magic Kingdom. The exact extent of the damage was never made public however it was made clear that the main Iago animatronic was scorched and by the time firefighters arrived the automatic sprinkler system had kicked in dousing the flames (and the animatronics) giving them some extreme water damage. For four months Disney and the Tiki Room went silent, nothing was announced and Disney fans were expecting the attraction to simply be lost to time. However at D23 of May 2011 Disney Imagineers broke the news that the attraction would re-open in just a few months time, but thankfully it wouldn’t be the now incredibly dated Under New Management version but would step back in time bringing back the original Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room (Though including the same few minutes cut as the version that had been playing at Disneyland for over a decade at the time). Fans were ecstatic, the Tiki Room was back better than ever featuring newly remastered audio, new lighting and a redo of the entire cast (Minus any 1990s Disney birds). On the 15th of August 2011, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room opened at the Magic Kingdom, and as the opening verse of The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room played and no obnoxious honking was heard Disney fans were happy, and have stayed happy to this day as this is the version still playing at the Magic Kingdom.

References to Under New Management around the resort are sparse, with only one piece of the attraction still in use on Disney property. At Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort a certain Goddess of disaster, Uh ‘Oa resides above the guests waiting to come alive when someone orders her namesake drink. Thankfully keeping alive the most impressive part of the shuttered attraction. Looking to the future it’s only a matter of time until Disney tries to update the Enchanted Tiki Room again, but will it be something worthy such as “The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!” from Tokyo Disneyland or will it another disaster like The Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management.

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