Forgot Your Password Or Login?

Having trouble logging in?
Try clearing your cookie:

Disneyland Article
Disneyland And Imagineering Part 5

Enchanted Tiki Room
May 14, 2015
May 14, 2015
Last time we left off, opening day was rapidly approaching. Teams of artists were working in their respective areas and time truly was of the essence. The lifestyle in the mid-50s was a family oriented, hard working culture, with a new-found desire for excitement. World War II had been over for almost ten years and the subsequent opening of the park would be two years and several days after the Korean War ended. If the timing wasn't right for a major park opening now, there never would be, and there was no doubt people were ready for some special place to escape. Additionally, we were almost ten years into the baby boom. That would provide a very large audience to almost exacting specifications; that is, families with children. Add to that an already established Disney library of films to draw from for a bulk of the attractions in Fantasyland. Films and stories from the True Life Adventure Series would be the foundation for both the Adventureland and Frontierland attractions. Updates would be broadcast from the weekly television show thus providing a lead-in to many of the new attractions, exhibits, and special celebrations. Examples of special events that weren't "attached" to the park directly would be the personal appearances by Fess Parker, Annette Funicello, and the Mickey Mouse Club. Looking back at what we now know, forthcoming themed rides and exhibits would be highly anticipated from these two mediums, thus helping kick-start the park even more. It's ironic because even with all that the company had available, the first few years would still be a trial by fire. Sure, it was a culmination of groundbreaking entertainment, but with all that was planned, roughly one year really wasn't enough time for completion of such a complex project, and that is why many of the designers and Imagineers felt that the real opening for the park was a year after the actual opening. There was no official announcement of this, but as we will soon see, all was not what it should have been on opening day and unforeseen, uncontrollable factors would wreak havoc some would actually be some of Disney's "best friends."

A Peek Behind the Curtain

So, exactly how did Walt Disney plan to take the family films and nature series he had created and convert them into an environment you could walk into? What was he hoping to fill his themed lands with and how was he going to make it happen? Before I introduce the first attraction in this series, I thought this would be a good place to stop and take a peek at what was beyond the ticket gates to get a better picture of what people were going to see when the gates finally opened. Oh, I'm sure it would probably be a good idea to start at the entrance, but I'm going to skip down to the end of Main Street USA, for the moment, and come back to it, shortly. There is definitely plenty to talk about there; a few things you might even find shocking to see on this famous "street of dreams." As we walk down the left side of the street and continue toward the center of the park, we pass a small patch of foliage shaped roughly like an upside down ice cream cone. Just past that, in just over a year, Carnation Plaza Gardens would open. The Plaza Gardens adopted a sort of cult following, so when announced that it would be closed this year, petitions circulated to keep it open. It will, however, be transformed into the Fantasy Faire Experience, featuring characters from the Disney library. Past that, immediately to our left, we come to the entrance to Adventureland. Walking under the imposing arched title sign with white crossed tusks above it promises fun, and of course, adventure. It is interesting to note that the tusks, which, in the twenty-first century, could suggest poaching, have been replaced with a totem and what looks like long tusks, but are dark and more wooden in appearance. Obviously, the original gateway was designed long before the age of political correctness, which sometimes borders on the ridiculous. But, for consideration of endangered species, that might have impacted the decision. As I mentioned, a significant number of attractions were based on The True-Life Adventure series, which focused largely on what happens in nature with not so much suggestion of man versus animal, but more from Darwin's viewpoint. Disney was eight years ahead of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, so, with his own successful nature series, that gave him a lot of subject matter and source material that he could draw from.

Imagine in the area that we are passing through, about one-tenth of the foliage that exists today. Even with the thousands of hours that were spent designing and planting, one thing no one can control is Mother Nature. Disney had discovered that trees and shrubs that were being excavated from his own site, and other local projects, could be spared by relocating them to strategic locations all over the park. Adventureland and the all important Berm that surrounds the entire park to block out sound as well as structures, required the largest amounts of shrubbery to create this environment. One thing Disney was emphatic about was that there would be no outside intrusions - period. Just to give you an idea of how much was required, Bill Evers was quoted as saying that it takes roughly one hundred feet of dense foliage in addition to the berm to effectively block off-site sound. There were a number of extremely mature shrubs that were trucked in and planted, but they were limited to certain areas and scenes.

Cruising into Adventureland

Sparse is a good description of the landscape at that time, resembling something from The Living Desert rather than dense tropical jungle. Truth be told, in the beginning, the entire park was extremely thin on vegetation. True, nature needed time to "catch up." As I mentioned in the introduction, it was felt an additional year was needed to iron out the bugs, complete what was considered unfinished, and give the greenery a chance to root and grow. But as far as the foliage for the entire park, it would be many years after that before the park would resemble anything close what guests are used to seeing now. My wife and I were looking at pictures of the park from the sixties and it still looked significantly different. Continuing on, keeping left, the first, and considered one of, if not the biggest attraction at that time, is the Jungle Cruise. But prior to 1955, the working title for the ride was Tropical Rivers of the World. With the opening it was advertised as "For true life adventure ride the Jungle River." It would be several years before the ride would adopt its famous name.


Wait a minute, there's something missing what about the Enchanted Tiki Room? Currently, it is the first full attraction on the left, but for several reasons, it would not appear until 1963, and, you know, I'll get back to that. Between where the Enchanted Tiki Room would be and the Jungle Cruise, was the Plaza Pavilion. It was basically a viewing area to dine and watch a portion of the attraction, much like what was done indoors with the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Blue Bayou restaurant. For any of the readers who have ridden the Jungle Cruise since the installation of Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, that was the last major restructuring of the Jungle Cruise. But what did it look like sixty years ago? The issue of sparse foliage couldn't have been more frustrating for Disney than when it came to the Jungle Cruise. For one, it was his only attraction that populated Adventureland when it opened. Secondly, it was considered one, if not the, primary attraction for the entire park. Finally, as the passengers riding the Jungle Cruise traveled along the river, they could oftentimes look back and see parts of buildings both in Adventureland and Main Street USA.

Technology in the mid-fifties was limited. The advent of Audio-Animatronics was on the horizon, but it would be almost a decade before that technology would come into being. While construction was continuing on-site, Walt Disney would give periodic updates on all different areas of the park during his weekly broadcast. In the early part of 1955, an ABC program aired called A Progress Report: Nature's Half Acre. It focused for the most part on Adventureland and the river ride. Viewers watching on television were able to see a rough run-through of the ride. Harper Goff was assigned to develop Adventureland, with the Jungle ride being a main attraction and the "anchor" for that land. Designers brainstormed for ideas and ways to create the dimensional environment utilizing Disney's classic use of storytelling. Goff and the other designers set about designing a ride that would weave through the Jungles of Africa giving children and their adults a chance to see animals in their natural habitat. The trip would begin in the waters of Southeast Asia, with a waterfall created by Goff himself. Anyone riding this attraction would recognize this as Schweitzer Falls. Moving on, our river boat takes us to explore the rivers of Africa, the Congo, and finally the Amazon. Weaving through the jungle, guests would view staged scenes to the right, left, and forward of the boat. This particular attraction owed some of its design to the template that was used for the Disneylandia project, only in this setting it is permanent, not traveling, and on a much bigger scale.

Since I'm mentioning the Disneylandia concept again, I have to digress and ask this question: Does anybody remember in the 1970s, walking down Main Street, looking in the display windows and seeing three dimensional scenes from movies like Peter Pan or The Fox and the Hound? Each window would have a different scene from the movie dressed with little miniature sets with articulated and motorized characters. These were changed periodically to coincide with movies that were being released, but basically followed the same structure; singular scenes created in display windows that guests walking down Main Street could view. The displays pointed up key moments from different stories and ranged from five to ten window dressings. Of course, I was the kid trying to press my face against the glass, trying to catch a glimpse of a motor unit guiding the characters or any hint of how the scenes were being created. I was so intent on seeing some clue to the secrets or the "how-to's" that I'm surprised I didn't break the glass and end up in the display case. This is another very good example of how the Disneylandia concept was used again, although it was not used the way it was originally intended. It was resurrected and utilized, being the key template for many of the subsequent ride designs used over and over, and still continues to this day.

Returning to Adventureland, riders would board their boats, which were designed with a nod to the African Queen, and launched from a two-story boat house, along with a river guide who would "steer" the boat, throttle the engine, narrate and point out scenes and characters, while the boats would follow along a predetermined path. They were, in fact, guided by a submerged tubular steel pipe track that was anchored to the river bed and raised up approximately eighteen inches from the base. The guide could control the speed of the boat, but not the direction. Created scenes of action, thrill, and danger, much like a studio set, were created along the river banks and in the river itself.

Thrills were extremely important, so the idea of exposing guests to the dangers of jungle life would give the attraction its jumps and scares. With regard to the jungle animals, the idea of using actual live animals was considered in the early design meetings. It would, after all, make the experience even more unique and realistic, but it was Goff who pointed out that, animals, that is, untrained animals would behave unpredictably. They might hide or not be in position to be seen clearly and at the right moment. Imagine "come see the famous sleeping Bengal Tiger!" To care for these animals would have made it even more costly and time consuming, having to feed them and clean up after them; it just wouldn't work. That decision was a blessing in disguise that no one even realized what the full impact would be, at least not quite yet. Disney had always said that he wanted to use mechanical engineering, particularly hydraulics, pneumatics, and electronics to make his jungle adventure look as realistic as possible. Artistic drawings were used to form clay molds for hippos, rhinos, elephants, crocodiles, and birds. With the eventual addition to the story of not so friendly human inhabitants, they would be created much in the same manner. Sketched designs, small models or maquettes, a possible larger size model, clay sculptures, and finally molds were created in which to extract latex skin or thicker rubber appliances in order to create the characters, both human and animal. During the ride, guests would view crocodiles swimming dangerously close to the boats, raising and lowering in the water. These models were brought to life by stretching and attaching the latex and rubber skins over the spring steel armatures that had been built. This technology was considered very complicated and advanced at the time. As the ride design developed, different innovative mechanics were built, largely from scratch, to bring the jungle and its inhabitants to life. To assist Goff in the creation of the jungle world, Robert Mattey, a special effects technician, was brought in. He was extremely experienced with this environment, having created the larger-than-life-size squid that attacked the Nautilus in the Walt Disney production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the year prior. He would go on many years later to create another iconic sea monster, Bruce the shark from the movie Jaws. He had problems of his own, but that's another story. And where did Bruce get his name? It was the name of the director's attorney, Bruce Ramer.

Meanwhile, back in the half-created Amazon, Goff was down in the trenches, literally, with many others carving out a story in three dimensions. Along with Goff and Mattey handling the effects, Evers was alongside his brother Jack, working on the landscaping. With the opening, only animals populated the jungle; the natives would follow shortly. During first few years, the jungle inhabitants movements were very limited. Consequently, some of the effects I'm describing were not installed until regular modifications were made, which in the beginning were frequent. In the meantime, what was used didn't really have a unique title beyond special effects. Instead, Imagineers traded ingenuity for the technology (or lack of it). Because costs had to be kept from skyrocketing, only some of the inhabitants, called "showcase characters," had more articulated physical movement. The characters further in the distance from the boats would have limited movement or be "static;" that is, no movement. The movements of humans and animals were studied and broken down into basic "cues," or groups of cues. They were categorized as back and forth, rotation and up and down. Gravity and counterweight systems were utilized, as well as track and carriage layouts. Experiencing amusement park rides, timing is important, not just for safety, but for the story to flow properly. For example, a scene involving a jungle animal appearing in the foliage as the boat passes has to be synced to the sensor that starts the scene. The speed of the boat has to be calculated and set to hit the key viewing point for that scene at the correct moment. Additionally, the mechanism that controls the animal has to have adequate time to reset before the next boat comes into view, otherwise the illusion is exposed. Something to note: not only was the Jungle Cruise considered groundbreaking in technology, but it was performed live, in three dimensions, and in broad daylight. This was not your average dark ride. Track and carriage systems were employed to propel the characters along a predetermined path. The track, similar to a railroad track in design, would be secured to the ground. The carriage, designed to carry and move the characters, could range in size and design, depending on the requirements. Motors, in conjunction with gravity and counterweights, were used to propel the carriage. If it was a bear wandering along the river bank, the carriage would tend to be box-like, but low to the ground. The character would be attached to the top of the carriage. Rock formations, shrubbery and other set decorations would be used to conceal the motor apparatus and the track. For scenes involving the crocodiles pursuing the boat, a large circular steel structure was constructed and added to the main track design to assist in creating the scene, which is actually not on the river bank, but in the water. The track was measured for the correct placement with respect to the water level and was submerged and affixed to the river bottom. Because of the size and weight of the rig and the animals attached, hydraulics were used to raise and lower the mechanism that would be used in conjunction with the circle track. This mechanism looked like a very large thick steel scaffolding-accordion type device, that was placed on its side. The reptiles would be attached to the top or "side" of the mechanism. The idea was that as the boat would pass along, a sensor would be tripped which would put that scene into action. Motors would propel the crocodiles around the track; they would circle, raise up, follow close to the boat, then lower back down and the mechanism would reset itself, in time for the next boat. In the beginning, if a character's movements weren't continuous, a mechanical or simple electronic sensor was used to begin the sequence. But that would soon change, with the advent of infrared technology.

There were two areas for action in the attraction: the river bank and the water. They were used alone, together or alternating, with distraction as a key to creating the jump scares. Here's an example of distraction your attention is drawn to the river bank to see a large bull elephant flapping his ears, standing on the shore watching the passing tourists. This simple movement built into the attached ears, combined with sound effects and cues from different locations made for a very convincing double. While you are watching the elephant, a second sensor is tripped and another sequence begins in the water; let's say it's the crocodile sequence I described above. The crocodiles begin their circle, start to submerge just as they come up alongside the boat. Your attention is drawn to them either by seeing them or by their being pointed out by your guide. Seeing them without a cue is more effective than having someone point them out to you. That is more like a true-life adventure: menacing reptiles approaching your boat as you're trying to speed away. That's how distraction combined with a jump scare emphasizes the animal characters and their part in the show.

Humor, sometimes even dark humor, was a critical component to the story, which brings us first to the cast of hippopotami. They could be menacing, but what I remember is the rising hippos coming out of the water much in the same manner as the crocodiles, wiggling their ears and then dropping below surface, blowing water out of their snouts by means of simple air lines built into the nose; their input was less menacing and more comical. A very simple, clever story idea that provokes a laugh and a positive feeling. Thrills, spills and scares are a part of the attraction but, in the end, Disney wanted guests to walk away happy and entertained.

If the riders were the protagonists in the adventure, and the animals were neutral or semi-threatening, then the ride needed a real antagonist, someone or something to make the audience really lose their heads, and that is exactly what the Imagineers gave them. My first introduction to head hunters was in a Tarzan movie. It was one of the later versions of the title character, but I remember how scary they were. If it was good enough for Edgar Rice Burroughs, then it was good enough for Walter Elias Disney. Just like the Disney characters, Tarzan went from paper to film, Disney went from paper to film, took it one step further, and went to dimensional reality. Although he's considered a park veteran, Trader Sam the headhunter, wouldn't make an appearance until 1957. Joining him, jungle natives appear on the shore dancing and chanting not far from shore-side boats filled with shrunken heads and skulls. Sam offers us a special two-for-one. Fortunately, that's about as close as we get to him. As far as the mechanics, the natives are dancing around in a circle, so again a circular type rig is designed and employed to bring them to life. This action scene will take place on the river bank. The audience is in a slightly lower position than the characters, which gives the Imagineers an advantage. The viewer has to look up to see the scene without seeing the rig or the "offstage" area. The rig for movement is attached to the dancing natives at the base. Imagine a steel drum shaped like a tuna can, shallow and circular, and obviously much bigger. This effect will involve three dancing natives, so the drum must be able to hold three medium size characters. That would make it about six to eight feet in diameter. Inside the steel drum is a second rig. This one will control the characters and give them movement. Since there are three natives, a triangular rig is designed to hold the characters, with each being positioned on each vertex of the triangle. Each is dressed in the appropriate costume. As the rig rotates inside the drum, each character moves on its separate rig as well. This, combined with the music and sound cues layered onto the scene, is truly a technical achievement as well as very entertaining. Looking at something like this through the eyes of a child, well, I'm sure you can imagine we've all been there.

Oftentimes, the character's costuming would only be completed to the extent of what could be seen by the viewer. When you think about it, there's a lot of unintentional contradiction in Disneyland, and it's actually quite humorous. Pirates of the Caribbean is a good example. Many of the characters in the attraction are only partially visible; consequently, what isn't seen, isn't dressed. If you saw the entire cast together with a complete view of everyone, you'd think you were at an adult entertainment convention. But, in reality, there's a very practical reason for this. It has to do with the technical requirements of utilizing hydraulics, pneumatics and costumes together, and the costuming being dirtied by the different techniques used to bring the characters to life. The fluids and oils that are used to facilitate movement in the characters can be very messy and tend to deteriorate the costumes fairly quickly. Consequently, replacement costumes need to be ready when the maintenance crews come in to perform nightly checks.

The Jungle Cruise is an excellent example of how the talent of the Imagineers came together collectively, created something that had never been attempted, and succeeded to that degree. Even though the opening wasn't without its misfires, this ride helped establish concepts from the Disneylandia project that would create the attraction style for all of the Disney parks. As we journey on, we'll go back and see what's up on Main Street. Oh, we're not done in Adventureland; there's lots more to see and, even as the park was opening, plans were on the drawing board that developed into several additions that would be introduced before the end of 1955. The Jungle Cruise attraction has had significant changes over the years; thirteen, so far. These could be anything from addition of characters or scenes, upgrades, relocations, a few that would be major changes. A good example is when the Indiana Jones and the Forbidden Eye attraction was installed. Several major adjustments had to be made on either side of the new attraction, one of them being the rerouting of the Jungle Cruise waterway. As we move toward the end of the decade, we'll revisit this attraction to see how it fared during the opening and what upgrades were made.

But getting back to Main Street; if you think Frank Baum's wizard from Oz was something, then you really need to meet the Wizard of Main Street. I'll give you this one now if you don't know already, the names painted on the Main Street windows are nods to the artists, designers, and creators who contributed to the Imagineering of Disneyland.

In the next article, we'll meet some of these very talented storytellers and the lands that they created.
Attractions Referenced

Enchanted Tiki Room

Fantasy Faire

Indiana Jones Adventure Temple Of The Forbidden Eye

Jungle Cruise

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Restaurants Referenced

Blue Bayou Restaurant

Carnation Cafe

Carnation Plaza Gardens

Plaza Pavilion

Lands Referenced




Main Street U.S.A.

Top Of Page
Solution  Graphics

Copyright: (c) 1997-2023 by ThrillMountain Software is not associated in any official way with the Walt Disney Company,
its subsidiaries, or its affiliates. The official Disney site is available at
Troubleshooting Info:

BrowserBrand: IE
Mobile: NO
LocalHost: NO
BrowserAgent:CCBot/2.0 (
BrowserCurrentPage: /disneyland-article.aspx
Login: 0
FilterBy: 0
SortBy: 0