Walt Disney said of Disneyland that it would “never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” One could only assume he would feel the same way about the Disney parks worldwide, and that’s just part of the reason why attractions are consistently refurbished, reimagined, or just plain replaced. Disney parks leadership is not only concerned with growth, but with remaining relevant to guests and creating new experiences that will encourage them to keep coming back. An attraction closure is always going to be met with some complaints, but for the most part, new additions are welcome, often becoming beloved in their own right. However, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes even the best of intentions fail to win over the public, such as with the often derided The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management).
Tropical Serenade, as it was called in Walt Disney World, was an opening day attraction for the Magic Kingdom. The Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland was already a classic, and was considered an engineering marvel for its extensive use of audio-animatronics. Naturally, Imagineers wanted to recreate it for the Florida park. For a couple of decades, the attraction proved to be just as popular at Disney World, but eventually, attendance started to dwindle. By a coincidental stroke of luck, Disney had released two of their most popular and most profitable animated films in the early 90s, Aladdin and The Lion King, which both featured plucky bird sidekicks. In a bid to remain relevant and hip, Iago and Zazu were about to relocate and find new jobs in Polynesia.
The Enchanted Tiki Room closed for refurbishment in September of 1997 and reopened as the Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) in April 1998. The new storyline was that Iago and Zazu were now the owners of the Tiki Room, and, while Zazu was respectful of the history there, Iago was his usual cranky self, concerned only with making money, something he felt the antiquated Tiki birds weren’t capable of doing for him. Of course, all his squawking awoke and upset a Tiki goddess (a new character named Uh-Oa) who proceeds to banish him for his insolence. He reappears at the end, slightly worse for wear, to proclaim that he’s changed his mind, that the Tiki Birds are the greatest act he’s ever seen, and that it won’t be long before they make him and Zazu a fortune! Guests filed out while he was still talking.
The updated show was not exactly the hit Disney was hoping for. The new script, new characters, and new songs (reimagined version of older pop songs) were considered by many guests to be abrasive, with much of the scorn directed toward Iago’s “jarring and cynical” attitude. It took the previously leisurely and calming experience, and made it loud and disjointed. Although this version of the Tiki Room still had its fans, namely the children of the 90’s who grew up with those movies and didn’t know the original, the larger consensus was that it was one of the worst refurbishments in Disney parks history, with one popular quote simply stating, “They ruined it.” However, driven by the popularity among the generation that knew it as THE Tiki Room, Under New Management ran for nearly thirteen years. In January of 2011, a fire broke out in the building. While Disney has never released many details about the cause or how extensive the damage was, the Tiki Room was closed indefinitely with reports that the main Iago animatronic had suffered significant damage and that the sprinklers had caused damage to the other birds. For several months, guests didn’t know what was to come for the future of the Tiki Room.
Ultimately, the story had a mostly happy ending, with the notable exception being the cantankerous Iago, who drew so much ire. At that year’s D23 Expo, it was announced that the Enchanted Tiki Room was being restored to its original show, minus just a few minutes. Guests could now relax again to the soothing sounds of a Disney classic. The goddess Uh-Oa (arguably the best part of Under New Management) found a new home in Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort, and comes to life in all her glory whenever her signature drink is ordered. I’ve found no information on what might have become of Zazu, so if anyone knows, please share!
What are your thoughts on the Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management? I never minded it, but I might be just that right age…