Sunday, April 02, 2006
When Birds Attack!
When Walt Disney World’s version of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room got a head to tail makeover in 1998 as ‘Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management’ little did those involved with the rewrite realize they were actually creating a potent metaphor for the management style of the entire Walt Disney Company.
It was from within this corporate culture of greed, cynicism and condescension that management stopped making any effort to understand the true Disney audience and instead kowtowed to those who actually despised those corny animatronic birds, indeed the entire Disney brand, as much as they did.
Enter Lion King’s Zazu and Aladdin’s Iago into the Tiki Room to actively trumpet the new corporate cynicism. Where the original was all charm and harmony, this once warm tropical oasis now became the setting of an ugly animatronic cock fight.
Iago doesn’t waste a moment to tow the new corporate line.
“If you’re gonna keep your jobs ya gotta get hip!” he shrieks down from his perch. “You are boring, Tiki Birds. That’s why I’m gonna change your show!”
“Can you birds sing in punk or rap?” he continues. “Can ya rock and roll? It’s a whole new world so you better get hip or your audience will disappear!”
One can easily imagine a similar speech at any Disney executive retreat.
Dutifully the birds in attendance get in lock step behind their new mandate. The now ‘down and funky’ Zazu introduces the, ‘pop idols of Polynesia’, the lady birds of the bird-mobile do the conga and the tiki chorus rap like good urban birds are supposed to rap.
It’s difficult to express the feelings of violation audiences who witness this bastardization of one of their favorite Disney classics feel as they exit. It’s not just that they’ve seen the heart and soul of this extraordinary show stomped on before their eyes, it’s that their very respect for the original has been dismissed; that they’re somehow second class citizens of the Magic Kingdom because their opinions are out of step with the Hip New Disney. Guests don’t come to the Disney parks to be lectured on how un-cool they are.
Surely even the most revered attractions at the Disney Parks are going to see dwindling numbers over time and difficult decisions will have to be made. But it’s at times like this that Imagineers need to take a deep breath, remove themselves from the corporate cacophony and then take careful stock of what it was about the original that enraptured audiences once upon a time before placating solely to the lowest common denominator. In staying true to the tone and spirit of the original vision Imagineers will not only embrace the faithful audiences that came before but garner new loyal converts to the Disney brand honestly and with all due respect.
For those wondering what venerable E-ticket attraction at Disney World might be next in line for a pop culture injection of cynicism and self mockery you may not need to look any further than Iago’s send off line in ‘Under New Management’:
“Boy, I’m tired! I think I’ll head over to The Hall of Presidents and take a nap.”