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They’ve been a hit, and they know you adore them!

On June 23, 1963 Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room opened at DISNEYLAND. The revolutionary show was the first example of audio animatronics, a Walt Disney breakthrough that would eventually lead to the realistic Mr. Lincoln and Pirates of the Caribbean animatronics.

The attraction began life as a restaurant concept. The idea was that guests would be brought into the room and begin having their meal. They would then see the show as an enchanting finale. DISNEYLAND had even signed Stouffer’s as the restaurant sponsor. Practically at the last minute, the decision was made to scrap the restaurant part since it was felt that it could not have enough capacity to be profitable. Additionally, Mrs. Disney reportedly questioned whether guests would be willing to eat food while sitting under a flock of birds. The tables were removed and the chairs were arranged in a square around the attraction’s centerpiece. The only remnant of the room’s original restaurant setup that exists today is the cabinet under the centerpiece, which was originally custom designed to hold coffee supplies. Today it is used to store DISNEYLAND Maps that castmembers handout to guests who ask for one.

Another element of the original setup that was removed was the Barker Bird. Perched high above the Adventureland entrance, the animatronic was originally supposed to announce when the next Tiki Room show would begin and tell jokes to guests. Voiced by Wally Boag, who performed at the Golden Horseshoe in nearby Frontierland. The Barker Bird created huge traffic issues at the entrance of Adventureland, so he was eventually removed. The birds still perform daily in Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

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Freaky Fridays: Roger Rabbit is 30!

It seemed like a can’t miss project- a family film produced by a re-invigorated Disney partnered with Steven Spielberg, directed by Robert Zemeckis and featuring state of the art technology. The highly anticipated film based on the genre bending book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? had the greatest of pedigrees and seemed like a surefire hit. That was before George Lucas decided to produce one of the first major films based on a Marvel comic book- Howard the Duck which similarly appeared to be a project destined for success. Of course, the film became a legendary disaster, sullying George Lucas’ reputation and losing tons of money. Through no fault of its own, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? already had one strike against it because it was seen as being a similar film.

Prior to the beginning of the film’s production, Disney thought it had already jumped over the production’s biggest hurdle by convincing Warner Brothers to loan the use of its Looney Tunes characters to the film. Despite industry gossip about the film being the next Howard the Duck, Disney pushed ahead with the production. The studio’s biggest worry at the time was that filming for the live action sequences had to push forward before anyone could see if the special effects looked realistic. Would filmgoers be dazzled by this fantasy Hollywood where cartoon characters interacted with humans or would they laugh the film out of theaters? 

As production started to wrap up, the company began promoting the film as a Walt Disney Pictures release in early trailers. The film’s more adult themes and the risk of the movie becoming another disaster like Howard the Duck made the studio skittish. The Disney name was removed from the film and it became a Touchstone Pictures release. The studio still put its promotional might behind the film though its licensing partners were annoyed that the movie would be released under the Touchstone banner. For better or worse, the film would be released June 22, 1988.

It turns out that the surefire hit actually was a surefire hit. Audiences fell in love with Roger, Jessica and Eddie. The special effects dazzled filmgoers who made the picture the number one movie of the year. The company quickly regretted not putting the Disney name on the film and Roger Rabbit spawned a licensing bonanza. The biggest honor given to the film was making its attraction the centerpiece of DISNEYLAND’s Mickey’s Toontown. A series of shorts were produced, though dissension between Disney and Spielberg made Roger Rabbit projects near impossibilities. With the current warming of relations between the two organizations, Roger Rabbit might just defy the odds and make his way back to the big screen.

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Theme Park Thursdays: Loading & Unloading

One of the rarest types of pictures from DISNEYLAND in the 1950’s and 60’s is of interiors. Since each photo had a cost involved, both in film use and developing, many tourists chose to only take exterior pictures that were assured to come out correctly. Interior pictures might not develop correctly, so most people wouldn’t take the risk. (After all, in those days they most likely wouldn’t know if the picture came out until after they were back home.) So what did the loading areas for the Fantasyland dark rides look like? Below, we see the boarding area for Snow White’s Scary Adventures.

Apparently, the women who operated the attraction dressed like Snow White. As you can also see, there were less safety gates at the time and it looks like the male ride operators wore shirts and ties. In order to save money, the attractions had less theming that consisted of painted scenes from the film. In 1982, Walt Disney’s original Fantasyland plans were built out, with more elaborate loading areas and European village theming added.

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Walt Wednesdays: A Day at the Beach

When DISNEYLAND first opened, its most popular attraction was also its least safe and most unreliable- Tomorrowland’s Autopia. Originally, guests were allowed to drive down the Autopia freeway as they wished. They were told not to bump into one another, but the warnings often went unheeded. On opening day, the fleet of 24 cars had been smashed down to just four, though the lines remained extremely long. Even though massive bumpers were added to the cars, problems still arose and Walt went looking for a more permanent solution to the problem.

One of the park’s contractors thought it had a solution. It had installed a car driving attraction at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and it invited Walt Disney to take a tour. Its attraction featured a track down the middle of the road. Despite the existence of the track, the attraction still featured a high boarding capacity, which is what Mr. Disney was looking for.

The tour was a huge success. DISNEYLAND’s Autopia would get a track and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk would become a part of Disney history. 

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Toontown Tuesdays: Pixar?

While many people today seem to view Pixar as being separate from Disney, the companies have seemingly always been tied together, regardless of what Pixar’s promotional machine might have one think. The Walt Disney Company itself has tried to keep Pixar separate in the public’s minds despite having completely acquired Pixar ten years ago.
In the beginning, Pixar was a company that just sold animation software. George Lucas had developed some 3-D software for his own films and decided that he could probably sell that technology to others. The software unit was not really doing all that well, so he hired John Lasseter, who had previously worked at Disney, to make animated shorts to use as examples of what the software could do. Lasseter had trained alongside several of Disney’s famed “Nine Old Men” animators and had soaked up the Disney way of doing things. He chose to leave the company after it refused to consider using newer technologies to make films. His leadership would borrow heavily from his time at Disney and he began producing shorts that would be entertaining and also sell the software.
When George Lucas began the process of divorcing his wife, he really needed quick cash. Additionally, Pixar proved to be a money pit at the time. When his friend Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple, Lucas was able to convince Jobs to purchase Pixar and use it as a second act; a chance to do something apart from Apple. After taking over the company, Steve realized that the software sales business model would never go anywhere because the biggest animation studio- Disney- had its own technology. He sat down with John Lasseter and told him that Pixar would no longer just sell the software- it would make its own films.
Lasseter knew that this would be a huge undertaking. He also knew that the best way to assure success out of the gate would be to partner with Disney. A deal was drawn up and Disney made its resources available to Pixar. While Pixar had full control of the project, it would use Disney’s connections to get a suitable script, voice talent and distribution. This effectively removed Disney as a competitor. The first planned feature was announced to be Toy Story and Disney put its entire marketing machine behind the film. Pixar was rarely mentioned in most marketing materials and as far as the public knew, this was a Disney film. As shown below, Pixar was barely or not at all featured on the movie posters.

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Mickey Mondays: A Special Date

For most of his life, Mickey Mouse never really had a specific birthdate. The company recognized that he was born in 1928, but often celebrated the event on different days. It seemed like if a local theater owner wanted to celebrate Mickey’s birthday as a way to attract customers, the company was willing to let him do it on any day he wished. Vintage movie ads often featured different dates that were allegedly Mickey’s actual birthday.

As Mickey’s landmark 50th birthday approached in 1978, the company wanted to settle this mystery once and for all. What was Mickey’s actual birthday? The dilemma became increasingly important, as the company sought to heavily promote the event as a way to make money off licensed products and drive attendance to DISNEYLAND and Florida’s Magic Kingdom. The EPCOT Center theme Park was under construction and way over budget, so the celebration would bring much needed cash.

The company turned to company archivist Dave Smith to settle the disputed date. Should Mickey’s “birthday” be the day that he was created on Walt Disney’s fateful train trip to California? Maybe the day that production commenced on Steamboat Willie? The options were seemingly endless.

Dave Smith tracked down all these possible dates as best as he could. Some of the dates were hard to track down. As a result, Mr. Smith decided to present company executives with the one date that was easy to verify and had the least controversy behind it- November 18, 1928. It was the day that Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse’s debut film was premiered at New York’s Colony Theater. Mickey now had an actual birthdate- the day that he changed the world with his groundbreaking cartoon. From 1978, Mickey’s birthday would forevermore be celebrated on November 18th.

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