Thursday, February 22, 2007

Oh, Little Orange Bird...

In its march through history, Walt Disney World has lost many good and pure things, and yet today very few seem to match the strange and alluring appeal of the one time Walt Disney World lost an entire mascot: The Florida Orange Bird. Created by Disney for the Florida Citrus Growers, the Orange Bird today seems like a refugee from a long-lost time when the citrus grove, not the tourist dollar, was king in Central Florida and we were known for fun in the sun and not just fudging election results.

For a character relegated to obscurity, the Orange Bird not only represents, but actually is a huge portion of an entire era of Walt Disney World. The Orlando property initially boasted a huge number of attractions, shops and restaurants sponsored by outside companies - not just one attraction or show, mind you, but whole stretches of Real Estate: Pepsi-Cola/Frito-Lay controlled practically the entire Western extent of Frontierland, from Country Bears to the termination of the area. Coca-Cola held sway in Tomorrowland and Main Street, and Florida Citrus Growers sponsored not only The Tropical Serenade show (which took place inside the Enchanted Tiki Room) and the adjacent snack stand but, in a stroke of genius, all of those elements brought together under a single name and architectural style: The Sunshine Pavillion. This is extensive publicity for a sponsor, no doubt, but when we consider that all of this then had a unique mascot, one who summoned up all that was unique and strange and haunting about early Walt Disney World, does an acute sense of loss - historical interest loss of course, but loss none the less - enter the picture.

Another irritation about The Orange Bird is that for a character designed in 1970, his appearance is actually in lockstep with today's interest in what the Japanese have termed "chibi": ultra-deformed, cute, big headed and big eyed characters which manifest in America as all manner of decoration for products for little girls. If re-introduced today and marketed properly (similarly), it's not hard to see the character taking off as a theme park prescence again.

Orange Bird with a number of increasingly evil similar properties.

Vestiges of the Orange Bird remain. The Sunshine Tree Terrace still serves the Citrus Swirl, the most perfect confection ever created, although his 1971 likeness in that snack stand (complete with projected orange-smoke thought bubbles) is now tucked away in a box somewhere in the Disney Archives.

And of course some memorbilia still exists. Below is a comic book from 1980 which features the Orange Bird along with two unnamed other birds. As the title suggests it's not very interesting, but as a collectable it's a pretty unusual item. The authors are not credited, but Disney does not surprisingly mention the Florida Department of Citrus as a key collaborator.

Finally, Below I've attached three desktops of the exterior of the Orlando Tiki Room, circa 1990. I've made them available in 1024x768, 1200x1024, and 1200 x 800 for those with widescreen monitors. The later is my favorite because you can see the Torre del Sol Caribe poking out of the jungle in the background. Enjoy!

Digital art of the Orange Bird by the author.