Yester World
Enchanted Tiki Room
Under New Management

Gilbert Gottfried’s Enchanted Tiki Room?
Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Chris Bales, 2005

This is not your grandfather’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Jafar’s sidekick Iago from Aladdin (1992) and Mufasa’s advisor Zazu from The Lion King (1994) are the new owners of this venerable attraction. The obnoxious parrot and the proper hornbill are shaking things up.

Gilbert Gottfried, the comedian and actor who voices Iago, dominates the tone and content of the revised show. It’s essentially become Gilbert Gottfried’s Enchanted Tiki Room.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Enjoy the pre-show.

How did these two supporting players from hit animated Disney features become the owners of this shrine of Audio-Animatronic entertainment? You wouldn’t expect two characters with such diametrically opposed personalities to be friends or business partners.

Blame it on their talent agents.

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

William and Morris, agents

As the audience waits to enter the theater, two toucans are having a heated pre-show discussion. They know each other, but they seem not to like each other. They’re Morris, who sounds suspiciously like Phil Hartman, and William, who sounds suspiciously like Don Rickles (and even calls Morris a “hockey puck”). Here’s a sample of them ruffling each other’s feathers:

Morris: I just flew in from Hollywood. My client’s the new owner of this birdcage.

William: What? Are you cuckoo? My client’s the new owner. Disney gave me an exclusive.

Morris: Co-exclusive. Didn’t you read your contract?

William: I gave it a bird’s eye glance.

Morris: And you call yourself a talent agent! I negotiated my tailfeathers off for this deal.

William: Well, my client does not share credit. He’s a very big bird.

Morris: Your client is Big Bird?

William: Not Big Bird. A big bird, you birdbrain.

Morris: Well, your dim little star is now half owner of The Enchanted Tiki Room with my superstar.

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

When the doors open, head toward them.

Morris tells William to look at the paying customers waiting to get in. When William figures out that “paying” means 10 per cent for agents, he concludes, “Hey, who am I to go against the status crow?” (which is apparently how a bird says “status quo”).

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Enter the dimly lit Tiki Room.

Did you enjoy the pre-show? Okay, it was a bit odd. The setting suggested tropical Pacific island charm, but the natural habitat for the bickering agents would have been an airport bar. At least you could understand them well. Their dialog was never obscured by laughter from the audience.

As you enter the room, it looks familiar. In fact, it looks just as it did back when this was the Tropical Serenade, presented by the Florida Citrus Growers.

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

It looks like the familiar Tiki Room.

The show begins. The dialog is familiar:

José: My siestas are getting shorter and shorter. Hey Michael, mi amigo, pay attention. It’s showtime!

Michael: So it is. Pierre, you rascal you, let’s put on the show!

Pierre: Mon ami, I am always ready to put on ze show, as is my good friend, Fritz.

Fritz: Mein goodness, you’re all schtaring at us! Vee better start the show rolling.

Michael: Wait, wait! We forgot to wake up the glee club.

It seems the new owners didn’t make any changes after all. The charmless pre-show is just a bad memory as the music begins:

In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room,
In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room,
All the birds sing words, and the flowers croon,
In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room.

Wait! Iago’s perch descends from the ceiling and he begins screaming into a small megaphone.

Iago: Hey, stop the music! Are you listening to me? I said stop the music!

The music winds down. Iago insults the original show:

Iago: What is that? I’m gonna toss my crackers. And these people below me, they ain’t gonna like that. Trust me.

The rest of the 10-minute show takes a far different path than the original:

Iago: Obviously, you birds don’t know who we are. Don’t you guys ever fly to the movies?

José: We don’t get out much.

Pierre: Oui, oui. We are, uh—how do you say—hehe, attached to the place!

Iago: Well, don’t get too attached, chumps! ’Cause we’re the new owners!

To the tune of “A Friend Like Me” from Aladdin, Iago sings about what a famous movie star he is. One verse goes like this:

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?

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

Zazu and the original cast

Iago continues to insult the old Tiki Room show, ignoring advice from Zazu and the longtime stars of the show. An impressive new animatronic character in the center of the room—Uh-Oa, the tiki goddess of disaster (voiced by Armelia McQueen)—banishes Iago for daring to defame the tiki gods. She calls him a “dead duck” and he’s gone in a puff of smoke.

Iago eventually returns in a different location, looking charred by his ordeal. But he doesn’t repent. This isn’t good-natured fun. Iago can only be downright nasty and insulting!

Along the way, a new set of musical numbers includes “Hot! Hot! Hot!” and “Conga.” The tiki gods perform a doo wop rendition of “In the Still of the Night.” There are still some nods to Polynesia—but not many.

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

He’s back!

As the audience exits, the new owners keep talking:

Iago: Come on! Keep movin’! You’ve had enough enchantment for one day.

Zazu: Bye bye now!

Iago: Hey lady, it wouldn’t hurt you to walk a little faster!

Iago: Boy, I’m tired! I think I’ll head over to the Hall of Presidents and take a nap.

Zazu: Right. Off you go.

Perhaps it would have been better if this had been your grandfather’s Enchanted Tiki Room.

The Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management opened April 5, 1998. It was an attempt to make Tropical Serenade (as Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room was called in Florida) relevant and entertaining for audiences of the late 1990s.

Tropical Serenade at Magic Kingdom Park

Photo by Chris Bales, 1996

Tropical Serenade, before going “Under New Management”

Tropical Serenade, presented by the Florida Citrus Growers in the “Sunshine Pavilion,” had been one of the original attractions at the Magic Kingdom when the park opened on October 1, 1971.

Walt Disney&squo; Enchanted Tiki Room

Press photo © Disney

Walt Disney with José at Disneyland

Tropical Serenade was actually older than that. Although the building and the pre-show were different than at Disneyland, the main show was essentially a carbon copy of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened in Disneyland in 1963.

In addition to sponsoring the Magic Kingdom version of the attraction for its first ten years, the Florida Citrus Growers commissioned Walt Disney Productions to design a new promotional mascot. The result was Orange Bird, essentially a small bird with a large orange as its head and orange tree leaves as its wings. Sometimes an Orange Bird walk-around character would greet guests near the attraction exit.

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Photo by Allen Huffman, 1998

Coming Soon!

Tropical Serenade closed in September 1997 to begin its 7-month transformation into The Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management. It must have seemed like a good idea.

Recent hits replaced timeless music. Pop replaced Polynesia. The animatronic figures of Iago and Zazu, with their animated cartoon character designs, looked out-of-place compared to the more realistic (although gently exaggerated) style of the birds and flowers reused from the original attraction. While the old version was relaxing and charming, the new version—with Gilbert Gottfried’s shrill Iago—was cynical and jarring.

It wasn’t Gilbert Gottfried’s fault. His brilliant voice performance in Aladdin was one of the things that made the movie so much fun. For Under New Management, Gottfried reprised the character perfectly. Only this time, Iago wasn’t Jafar’s henchman. Iago was an egocentric Hollywood star.

Somehow, the decision makers at the top of The Walt Disney Company thought that theme park guests were enamored with Hollywood agents, Hollywood egos, and Hollywood greed. It was the same miscalculation that doomed Superstar Limo.

Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management

Press photo © Disney

Iago and Zazu posing together in a Disney press photo

Under New Management might be the second most panned “enhancement” to an existing attraction in Disney park history—after Journey Into Your Imagination at Epcot. One guest summed up Under New Management in three words: “They ruined it.”

Under New Management also had some supporters. But perhaps they could all have fit into the room at one time.

The updated attraction was approaching its 13th anniversary when fire struck on January 12, 2011. The Orlando Sentinel described what happened:

Firefighters were called to a small fire at an attraction at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park on Wednesday, officials said.

According to the Reedy Creek Fire Department, firefighters were called to the park’s The Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management attraction in the Adventureland section of Magic Kingdom about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Fire Department spokesman Bo Jones said a small fire in the attic of the attraction was extinguished by fire sprinklers. Firefighters worked to evacuate the area and to check to make sure the fire was completely out, Jones said.

From the news story, it sounded minor, but the attraction was unable to reopen. There was no follow-up press release from Disney to provide more details.

The Internet being what it is, fans posted and repeated unconfirmed stories. Consistent with the news account of the fire sprinklers, one story was that there was significant water damage, especially to the electronics. An unconfirmed story said that the charred Iago at the end of the show survived, but the uncharred Iago from the beginning of the show was heavily damaged.

The big questions were when it would reopen and what would reopen. The early Internet rumor was that Under New Management would be back. As the current show, it would be repaired. Another rumor said the building would remain shuttered, awaiting future use for another purpose once something new was funded.

By late March, several Disney fan blogs had reported—in no uncertain terms—that when the attraction reopened, Under New Management would be gone and the original Tropical Serenade would be back. It made sense. The original attraction never went away at Disneyland; a skillfully executed 2005 restoration restored its popularity. With good maintenance and a resurgence in the popularity of the mid-century tiki culture, Disneyland had a strong attraction. With the 40th anniversary of the Magic Kingdom approaching on October 1, 2011, a return of the original show there might get a similar guest response.

The reopening date kept slipping. On April 7, the daily Magic Kingdom calendar at the official Walt Disney World website said the refurbishment would go through June 30. The next day, on April 8, the date changed to August 15. The website still called it The Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management.

Walt DIsney World publicity photo, 2011

Press photo © Disney

No Iago and no Zazu in the 2011 Disney press photo

In early August 2011, Disney made it official. The attraction would reopen as Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, the same name as at Disneyland since 1963. The original charm would be back, but not the original Florida name, Tropical Serenade.

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Attraction name matching its Disneyland counterpart

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Entrance to the new Enchanted Tiki Room

The grand reopening was August 15, 2011, with a soft opening one day earlier. The 1971 pre-show was back, with the two toucans voiced by Dallas (“wildest ride in the Wilderness!”) McKennon and Sebastian (Mr. French) Cabot. The show itself was once again your grandfather’s Tiki Room, although shortened here and there for impatient 21st century audiences. There was no trace of Iago or Zazu and no obvious fire damage repair. It just looked good again.

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

Photos by Allen Huffman, 2018

Centerpiece at Magic Kingdom (left) and Disneyland Park (right)

There’s one significant way in which the current Magic Kingdom version is different from—and inferior to—its Disneyland counterpart. When Under New Management went in, the central fountain came out to make room for tiki goddess Uh-Oa. When the original show returned, the central fountain didn’t.

At the Magic Kingdom, the birdmobile descends above a smoking or steaming pedestal—as if the birds are going to be cooked. At Disneyland, the magical fountain guides the descent of the birdmobile.

Gilbert Gottfried died April 12, 2022, at the age of 67. Arguably, Gottfried’s most memorable role was as the voice of Iago, but his entertainment career included work in stand-up comedy, television (even a stint as an SNL performer), movies, other voice work, and podcasting.

People who read Yesterland because they’re nostalgia fans might want to check out Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast. Together with co-producer/co-host Frank Santopadre, Gottfried has interviewed hundreds of performers and other entertainment professionals, often reflecting on careers going back to the 1960s and 1970s. The podcasts can be quite raunchy—because that was Gottfried’s style. Let’s hope that these podcasts will be archived and available for a long time.


Click here to post comments at MiceChat about this article.

Country Bear Jamboree at MK
Hall of Presidents with Bush

© 2024 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated March 24, 2024