I found myself channel surfing recently when I came to the Disney Junior channel, which was just beginning to show the classic Disney animated feature Cinderella.
As the credits were shown at the beginning of the movie, I was struck by the roll call of names who worked on the film — a veritable who’s who of legendary Disney animators, directors and producers: Maclaren Stewart, Hamilton Luske, John Hench, Ward Kimball. The honor roll of talent was as long as it was impressive.
The opening scene of the movie saw Cinderella fast asleep in her room. Suddenly, she’s awakened by two chirping birds as they fly through her window.
At that moment, of course, the two birds and Cindy belt out a song.
That opening scene got me to thinking. How prominent are birds throughout The Walt Disney Company’s long and storied history?
As it turns out, very prominent.
In addition to Cinderella’s feathered friends, there are the birds who flit about during Disney’s first animated classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At the end of that film, there are the menacing vultures who swoop overhead to signal impending doom.
And then there’s the Disney duck dynasty …
There’s Jose Carioca, Panchito and Donald Duck from The Three Caballeros.
And speaking of Donald, there’s the whole Disney duck dynasty thing — Donald, Daisy, Huey, Dewey, and Louie … Scrooge McDuck, Ludwig von Drake, and Darkwing Duck.
And there’s Abigail and Amelia Gabble from The Aristocats … which is a happy coincidence since two of our granddaughters go by the same names.
Then there’s Owl from the Winnie the Pooh movies …
… the seagulls from Finding Nemo, famous for their “mine, mine, mine” chant.
… irresistible Kevin from Up.
… Flit from Pocahontas.
… Wheezy from Toy Story.
… Sam the Eagle from The Muppets.
… Zazu from The Lion King.
… Iago from Aladdin.
The list of birds used in Disney movies goes on and on.
And, upon further observation, birds aren’t limited to animation.
There is, of course, the classic Disney Parks attraction The Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened on June 23, 1963, in Adventureland in Disneyland.
The Tiki Room will always be special since it was the Walt Disney Company’s first show featuring Audio-Animatronics.
And because the birds in the Tiki Room — including talking and singing fine-feathered avians Jose, Michael, Fritz, and Pierre — are controlled by computers, the Tiki Room also became the first attraction in Disneyland to be air-conditioned.
The original concept for the Tiki Room called for it to be a restaurant, with a roomful of animated birds serenading diners.
In fact, the “magic fountain” in the center of the Tiki Room was initially planned by the folks at WED Enterprises (the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering) to be a coffee station.
“One of our early ideas … was the dinner show,” wrote Imagineering’s John Hench in his Disney Editions’ book Designing Disney.
“The theory was that if all the guests were seated and served at the same time, they would finish eating the main course together, allowing us to start a show during dessert at specific times for lunch and dinner. My proposed room was cross shaped, with four wings and a central open space.
“My show concept began with a single Audio-Animatronics bird singing to a beat picked up by another bird, then by groups of birds, creating a lively avian jam session” which also included singing flowers and carved tiki gods on columns.
In the end, Disney’s higher-ups decided food service in the attraction would limit audience capacity, so the restaurant idea was scrapped, but not the bird-themed show, which was a big hit from the day it opened.
In Florida, Walt Disney World’s version of the Tiki Room was called Tropical Serenade, which opened with the rest of the Magic Kingdom in 1971. Years later, the attraction was renamed The Enchanted Tiki Room.
In 1998, the attraction underwent a major renovation and was renamed The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management!
Imagineer Kevin Rafferty was tasked with coming up with a new story for the attraction. His idea was to introduce Iago from Aladdin to “ruffle a few feathers.” Zazu from The Lion King also was added to the cast.
Rafferty, with the permission of composer Alan Menken, rewrote the lyrics to his Aladdin song “Friend Like Me,” to be sung by Iago.
“You are boring Tiki Birds, I’m a big cele-birdy
That’s why I’m gonna go and change your show
Ain’t it great to have a friend like me?”
Iago, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, and his Under New Management! flock lasted until 2011 before flying the coop. The original, if shortened show, returned in late 2011 as Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room.
When the Tiki Birds made their way East to Walt Disney World and were featured in the Tropical Serenade, there was a colorful bird who took up residence just outside the pavilion: The Orange Bird.
The Orange Bird was created to help promote Florida’s citrus industry, as well as Walt Disney World. He even came complete with a catchy song written by Richard and Robert Sherman.
Birds flocked to the Academy Award-winning Mary Poppins like ducks to water. “Feed the Birds (Tuppence)” was one of the many musical highlights of the film (also written by the Shermans) and it became Walt Disney’s all-time favorite song.
The scene in the movie where Mary holds a robin in her hand during the “Spoonful of Sugar” number was groundbreaking in that it was the first time an Audio-Animatronics creation was used in a film.
And speaking of Mary Poppins, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the penguin waiters who starred in the animated/live-action sequence of the film.
Learning to fly on the back of a banshee
This may be a stretch, but the bird-like critters who took up residence in Animal Kingdom’s Flight of Passage attraction a few years back show guests what it’s like to soar through the air … albeit on the back of an imposing banshee.
As we said, the list of winged creatures used by Disney is as long as some of the lines at a Disney theme park during peak seasons.
And last, but not least, there’s Brad Bird, the filmmaker behind such Disney/Pixar Animation hits as Ratatouille and The Incredibles.
Bird was mentored by Milt Kahl, one of Disney’s original group of animators known as the Nine Old Men, in the early 1970s … a fact that’s clearly something to chirp about.
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What’s your favorite Disney bird? Let us know in the comments!