Yesterland.com

Tarzan’s Treehouse

The legendary
vine-swinger’s
jungle home
Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Perhaps you remember the first few minutes of Disney’s 1999 animated film Tarzan.

A British father and mother make a harrowing escape with their baby from a sailing ship on fire off the coast of Africa. The parents use unburned pieces from the ship that have washed ashore to build a treehouse in a particularly imposing tree. Nearby, there’s a gorilla family with a baby gorilla. Then, awful things happen. A leopard kills the baby gorilla and goes on to kill the human parents in the treehouse. The film doesn’t actually show anyone getting killed, but there’s no doubt what transpired.


The gorilla mother, who is named Kala, finds the human baby, whom she later names Tarzan. The leopard, who is named Sabor, tries to strike again, but Kala escapes with baby Tarzan.

That’s how the film begins, and that’s also the story of Tarzan’s Treehouse in Yesterland.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2014

Ship parts reused for treehouse rooms

Do you like climbing stairs? Your first set of stairs takes you from ground level up a tree stump to a bridge. You cross the bridge.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2014

Bridge across the Adventureland pathway

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2014

Toward the main tree

After you cross the bridge, there are a lot more stairs. Enjoy the views of Adventureland and the banks of Rivers of America as you peer through the branches and green leaves.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2006

Sabor attacks!

Your first stop is the room where Sabor is ready to pounce on you. Unlike the brilliantly animated Sabor in the film, this Sabor isn’t moving—so you have nothing to worry about. Even so, he’s a frightening sight.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2017

Telling the story

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2018

Kala with baby Tarzan

The next room has Kala with baby Tarzan. Neither is moving. Perhaps they’re mesmerized by the glowing images in the frame.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

Advancing the story

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2014

Jane drawing Tarzan on her sketchpad

As we get to the next room, baby Tarzan has become adult Tarzan—and he’s with Jane, the first other human he met since he was a baby. Tarzan is staying very still, which is good when you’re an artist’s model. Jane is also very still, perhaps contemplating her next pen stroke.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2014

Jane Porter

After you make it back down all the stairs, your tour continues on the ground level. You’ll find interactive activities and even some Easter eggs.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2017

Images from a 19th century projector

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2017

Make music—or just to make noise

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2014

Chip and Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast, just as in the film Tarzan

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Gramophone playing the “Swisskapolka” from the Swiss Family Treehouse

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 1999

Baby elephant at the treehouse

There’s a baby elephant near the base of the tree. His realistic appearance doesn’t match the style of the figures you encountered in the tree. Perhaps he wandered over from the Jungle Cruise, and Trader Sam is wondering where he went.


Tarzan’s Treehouse replaced the Swiss Family Treehouse, which had opened at Disneyland in November 1962. For more than 36 years, guests imagined themselves living in the arboreal “mansion” with an ingenious plumbing system delivering water from the stream below to the rooms that Father, Mother, Fritz, Ernst, and little Francis called home.

In the late 1990s, Paul Pressler, who had a background in merchandising, was the president of the Disneyland Resort. The mighty artificial tree needed structural work. It seemed it might be felled instead.

In an interview on the Season Pass Podcast (episode 240, “The Tony Baxter Interview Part 2,” July 24, 2013), Imagineer Tony Baxter described what Disneyland management had in mind: “The park, under the management at that time, seized on the idea that that location was a crossroads; it would be ideal to tear out the tree and put in a merchandise shop. So it was on the chopping block. Branches would fall. It was becoming hard to see it in the future of Disneyland. And then Tarzan came along.”

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Screen capture © 1999 Disney

Treehouse in Disney’s 1999 animated feature Tarzan

Just like Swiss Family Robinson, Tarzan would feature a treehouse built with salvaged items from a shipwreck. Baxter had seen the movie in production in Paris and he was impressed.

“I pitched that we could convert it over,” Baxter continued. “They said if you can do it for a certain amount of money—which was very, very little—and get it there the day that the movie opens, we’ll allow you to do that. It gave us enough money to restore it, put new leaves on it, beef it up structurally, build a second tree with a swing bridge out to it—and we got it there opening day.”

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 1999

Construction wall

When the plan was revealed, some people were unhappy. “I took a lot of flack,” explained Baxter. “There were people wearing Dorothy McGuire tee-shirts with ‘Save our home’ and all this stuff. They didn’t realize that we really did save their home because it would have been gone completely.”

The Swiss Family Treehouse closed March 8, 1999. With the Swiss Family booted from their jungle home, the giant artificial tree received a massive makeover, including thousands of replacement vinyl leaves and a new suspension bridge entrance from a new neighboring tree stump.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 1999

Behind the construction wall

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 1999

Scaffolding

U.S movie theaters nationwide began showing Tarzan on June 18, 1999. Disneyland began welcoming guests to the revamped treehouse on June 23, 1999.

The attraction was a success. In fact, had it been known how successful it would be, the budget might have been bigger.

“They do a survey in the first year or two that a new thing opens,” explained Baxter. “They estimated 200,000 people came because of the marketing for the treehouse. That would have driven about twice the amount of money we were given. They told me—of course, after we were done—‘you could have spent twice as much money.’ You mean I didn’t have to have static figures in there? We could have had some really neat things? We were guessing it was going to have the drawing power of a ‘B’ ticket, but it ended up having twice that.”

More than 22 years after it opened, Tarzan’s Treehouse closed in September 2021—with no reopening date. But why? According to the official Disneyland website, “Tarzan’s Treehouse is currently closed for refurbishment. Please check back here for updates.” That was still on the website in April 2022. Refurbishments seldom take that long.

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 2021

Walls, scaffolding, scrim, and construction tarps in September 2021

Tarzan’s Treehouse, Disneyland

Photos by Chris Bales, 2021

“Closed today” since early September 2021

On April 18, 2022, the Orange County Register published an article by Brady MacDonald, “Disneyland to give Tarzan’s Treehouse a new theme.” Here’s how it began:

Tarzan will soon be swinging out of his treehouse at Disneyland to make room for a re-themed attraction that will see a new Disney character move into the 80-foot-tall man-made tree in Adventureland.

Disneyland will reimagine Tarzan’s Treehouse in Adventureland with a new theme and backstory, according to Disneyland officials.

The treehouse experience isn’t going away, but the Tarzan theme won’t return when the attraction reopens, according to Disneyland officials.

The walk-through attraction’s new theme, backstory and reopening date have not yet been announced.

Initial work would include demolition of the tree stump and suspension bridge entrance that had been added for Tarzan’s Treehouse.

A week before the Orange County Register article, a MiceChat column by MiceChat founder and CEO Dusty Sage suggested that Antonio Madrigal’s treehouse bedroom in Disney’s hit movie Encanto would be an easy fit. Dusty wrote, “So, if Disney isn’t planning an Encanto overlay to the treehouse, perhaps they should be… And it’s at least possible that’s what the LOOOONG delayed refurbishment of the treehouse is really about.”

There’s a new Swiss Family Robinson series in the works for Disney+, so that’s also a possibility.

Then again, it could be neither of those.


Click here to post comments at MiceChat about this article.


Tahitian Terrace
Swiss Family Treehouse
Home


© 2022 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 22, 2022