Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Adventureland Is Tikiland...

   The idea of Disneyland developed in Walt Disney's mind long before the park came to fruition.  The basic design was far from polished when he finally started building his park, though the idea of basing each themed land around a common movie genre was in place.  Tomorrowland could be the home of space travel, rockets, and in a more broad sense future living here on Earth.  Frontierland the home of America's beloved westerns. (and apparently most period pieces, according to Walt.)
   Where does that leave Adventureland?  Included early in the process was the idea for the Jungle Cruise attraction, fleshed out to realization by Harper Goff.  And there you have it, an impressive ONE attraction, albeit a large scale powerhouse.  The thing about The Jungle Cruise is that it doesn't take place in one specific part of the world.  The time is roughly toward the end of British Colonialism, based on main inspiration The African Queen.  The concept for Adventureland itself is essentially the same idea, an amalgam of cohesive themes centered around the ultimate hodge podge of cultures: Tiki.

   Used in trade routes for centuries, the Polynesian islands melded together slowly over time mixing with Western traditions creating a beautiful and bloody melange of cultures.  Wooden tiki statues from Eastern Polynesia mix wonderfully with Cantonese cuisine...as does rum punch with ukulele ballads.  It is this made up culture that charms us so.  Because nobody would recognize this as their own way of life it is indeed an adventure for all.

   None of the real "tiki" based attractions show up in Disneyland until after the peak of tiki culture in 1959.  The Enchanted Tiki Room appears in 1963 alongside the Tahitian Terrace restaurant and show. Though the Swiss Family Treehouse bares no direct tiki reference they too are on an unnamed island probably in or near Polynesia. (they were on their way to New Guinea.)   By not getting too specific Disney can create magic for all people, regardless of where you're from.
   Tiki architecture itself, featured more prominently in Walt Disney World, is fanciful by nature.  Sharp angles mixed with organic materials create natural intrigue for guests.  The use of faux thatched roofs make the transition into the jungle seem natural, while the glass windows and formica invite you to sit and enjoy a Dole whip.

   Walt could have gone in any direction with Adventureland.  The True Life Adventure series was immensely popular at the time, and lord knows wild animals were included in the land, but the inclusion and emphasis on a made up human culture is what defines this land.  By creating a new world in which to tell the story Disney can create adventure.


  1. Actually this is one element of The Magic Kingdom that frustrates me most. Adventureland there comes across as very lost. With a Polynesian sub-area, a (purposefully) run-down Jungle Cruise across from an Arabian area, and then Pirates' crumbling fort. I get it, and maybe that DOES fit the original intention of the area.

    Disneyland's Adventureland, though, is anchored by the Indiana Jones Adventure, and as such, the whole land is united in the same time period and story: a 1930's lost jungle outpost where foolish European adventurers have been drawn by promises of adventure. It's a "hoity toity" crowd. The pre-show for IJA says "The creme de la creme of the international smart set are wearing khaki this year, and the new vacation hot spot is Temple of the Forbidden Eye!" Even the Tiki Room and Tarzan's Treehouse can bend to fit that time period and storyline and, even with its architecture representing the whole world, it feels solid and united. I describe it as "big band music meets tribal drums," and the whole land is united with that.

    I consider Indiana Jones Adventure a staple of the whole resort, though, so maybe just being without it is what makes Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom feel wrong for me... When IJA premiered, both Jungle Cruises were redone to look faded, rusted, worn, and tourist-trap-y, but that conversion only fits a story at Disneyland thanks to IJA's retrofit of the whole land to the 1930's. I don't know. Just an opinion!

  2. @ Brian: Good points about today's DL Adventureland, but I grew up in the pre-Indy era, and the unspecific tiki-jungle atmosphere worked pretty well, then. I do like the 30's atmosphere makeover, however. I just wish they'd give the Treehouse back to its original owners.

    @Adam and Andrew: I need to spend much more time in WDW's Adventureland on my next trip. I do love the general concept that Adventureland is a state of mind, and that the Imagineers morph it for different cultural perceptions in the non-U.S. parks. Looking back at the DL original, how much of that concept do you think was pre-planned and how much was a happy accident caused by budget and time limitations?

    1. Like most of Disneyland I would say it is half planned and half accident. All of Disneyland continues to suffer (more and more) from these limitations, but also the constraints of unavailable land. Like the invented Tiki Culture, the melange that is Adventureland benefits from everything coming together...however random it may seem.