Monday, June 24, 2024

Between Books - Before the Birds Sang Words

Book cover for Before the Birds Sang Words with an illustrated macaw sitting on a perch.

I have to beg the Between Kid to enter Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in the Magic Kingdom! Maybe it takes a Dole Whip to get him to agree to enter. Maybe I just have to demand a break in the AC. Cearly, singing colorful birds doesn’t excite him. Now, Pirates of the Caribbean, he can ride all day! And what’s sad about this situation is that José is essential to the story of Jack Sparrow, Elsa, Mr. Potato Head, and Hondo Ohnaka when we see them in the parks today.

Before the Birds Sang Words by Ken Bruce outlines the long, and we mean long, saga of the Disneyland Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. While the attraction may have opened in 1963, Bruce ties the origins of the singing bird attraction not in just the popular tale of the New Orleans bird toy that Walt Disney brought to Imagineering, but even earlier to the astronomical clock in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg in Alsace, France. The 60-foot clock was created in 1354 and seen by Walt as a young Red Cross volunteer and an American businessman visiting France in the 1930s. Bruce uses the clock as a foundation from which he builds intersecting histories of mechanical toys, American views on Tiki and Polynesian culture, and Walt Disney’s development of the American theme park as seen through Disneyland. With Disneyland established, and his gift of a mechanical bird to Imagineering, Disney charged his artists to develop a bird restaurant. This challenge would lead to a ten-year development cycle that includes some of Disney’s most respected artists including John Hench, Marc Davis, Rolly Crump, the Sherman Brothers, Harriet Burns, and numerous other Disney Legends who participated in the evolution of a planned restaurant to a higher-capacity singing bird show. Bruce provides a comprehensive view of the show's development discussing Disneyland food service (can we talk about Stouffer’s Foods friends), Audio-Animatronic development, show scripting, building layout, song selection, recording, and virtually any topic of relevance to the show. Bruce finishes with a discussion of the evolution of the Disneyland attraction and its duplication in other parks like Walt Disney World.

I really enjoyed Before the Birds Sang Words. It is well-organized, well-written, and engaging. As someone who is not in food service, if you had told me that I would be fascinated by a chapter discussing Stouffer’s Foods I would have loudly said that would not happen. But in the big picture of Disneyland and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, this one small detail matters for understanding the relationship between leasees in Disneyland and why Walt Disney moved away from their large role in the park. The quality of the book and its definitive coverage of the attraction is surprising to me due to the fact it’s not a Disney Press edition yet it meets or exceeds the qualities of that press.

I called this story a saga, and it really is. The short story us Disney fans tell is that Walt Disney wanted a bird restaurant, Walt Disney realized that the birds were above the food, and he moved to an attraction. No, this is a ten-year development where technology changed, capacity was better understood, and Tiki culture grew in popularity. What’s also interesting to me is that honestly no one seems to have gotten what they wanted. Marc Davis designs were rejected, along with Rolly Crump’s. I really enjoyed the pages that discussed Davis and Hench working at cross-purposes. Songs were revised by George Bruns. Scripts and roles were changed, taking out some of Wally Boag’s saucy jokes. In the end, the attraction was rarely what anyone truly wanted, but a true collaboration between many visions. Though some would be able to show in the attraction’s evolution that what they wanted likely would have been for the best from the start.

Before the Birds Sang Words
by Ken Bruce is a engaging saga of one Disney attraction. But it’s an attraction who’s impact extends beyond the four corners the bird room. Bruce notes that some like the Between Kid may not be an enthusiastic for singing birds today as in the past. But Bruce gives us a context to better understand how important singing birds really are in Disney history and a chronicle of the hit they really were for Disney fans in Anaheim and beyond. Bruce helps us understand fully the lastly impact of the tiki birds and their entertainment legacy even for those who lack modern interest.

Clearly next time I’m in the park, I need a AC break even if he says no!  Because I love legacy.

Review Copy Provided for Review

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1 comment:

  1. Maybe being middle aged helps, but tiki's have always had a mystical vibe and aurora that is safely appealing and fun to explore!