Earlier this week, Walt Disney World welcomed back an old friend: Florida’s Orange Bird, absent from the World since 1987! We thought this would be a great time to bring back the Friday Feature, which is usually dedicated to film soundtracks but occasionally takes a Disney diversion! Today, we’re turning the spotlight on the little Orange Bird’s one moment of recorded glory, on which he was joined by a future Oscar winner!
Move over, Jose, Fritz and Pierre. There’s a new bird in Adventureland. Well, this new bird is actually an old bird, but he hasn’t aged a day! On April 17, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom officially welcomed back the Orange Bird. Though the winged little fellow was a symbol of the Florida theme park since its 1971 debut (and actually made his debut a few months before Walt Disney World itself!), he flew to retirement in 1987 with only infrequent appearances since. With the adorable Orange Bird now restored to a place of prominence in the same land as those other, more famous birds of The Enchanted Tiki Room, we’re taking a Second Disc-style look at our feathered friend’s history and, of course, his distinguished musical career on record!
In 1969, the Florida Citrus Commission signed on to sponsor the Magic Kingdom’s Sunshine Pavilion, which included the Tropical Serenade attraction (known today as Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room) and the Sunshine Tree Terrace refreshment stand serving Citrus Swirl, a delectable blend of vanilla ice cream and orange slush. The notion was hit upon to create a character to represent both Florida’s history and the soon-to-be-iconic theme park. That character would not only be visible in Walt Disney World, but throughout the state, on billboards and in advertisements for Florida Orange Juice. Designed under the supervision of Bob Moore, now a Disney Legend, the little Orange Bird with the leafy wings could also count Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman among his fathers. The Academy Award-winning songwriting duo had already penned the theme song to the “Tiki Room” and numerous other park attractions including, of course, “It’s a Small World.” They were dispatched to create the bird’s origin, if you will, in a story with music that would be released on Disneyland Records and introduce him to the world-at-large.
The Sherman Brothers composed six songs for The Story and Songs of the Orange Bird, a “magnificent book and long-playing record from the Walt Disney Studio,” as the album cover trumpeted. Jimmy Johnson adapted the script from a story by Vince Jefferds. Tutti Camarata, who had produced many of the Sherman Brothers’ songs for Annette Funicello, handled the same duties for The Orange Bird. Studio stalwarts The Mike Sammes Singers functioned as the chorus. But the Orange Bird couldn’t speak or sing; his thoughts instead appeared in the form of orange puffs of smoke above his head. (Orange Haze?) How would the story be told, then? To narrate his story and sing a bit, too, Walt Disney Productions and the Florida Citrus Commission chose Anita Bryant. A former Miss Oklahoma and second runner-up in 1959’s Miss America pageant, Bryant had placed a number of songs on the Hot 100 chart including a cover of Meredith Willson’s “Till There Was You” from The Music Man. In 1969, she became a spokeswoman for the Citrus Commission, so she was a natural selection.
In retrospect, Bryant’s presence on the album may leave a taste that’s not as sweet as Florida orange juice. When a law prohibiting discrimination against gays was passed in Florida in 1977, Bryant became an outspoken crusader for its repeal, succeeding in having the law overturned. Her contract with the Citrus Commission was allowed to lapse in 1979, thanks to the overwhelmingly negative publicity surrounding her political actions and the ensuing boycotts on Florida orange juice. Bryant has maintained a low profile in the past three decades. In 1998, the anti-discrimination ordinance was reinstated in Florida. When interviewed by authors Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar for their definitive 2006 study of Walt Disney Records, Mouse Tracks, Bryant still harbored fond memories of the LP.
Bryant was joined by a future Academy Award winner as part of the album’s cast. You’ll find out all about him after the jump when we delve into The Story and Songs of the Orange Bird on Disneyland Records in 1971!
Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, The Story and Songs of the Orange Bird (Disneyland Records STER-3991, 1971)
- Little Orange Bird
- The Story Part 1 (Picnic Park)
- Sing All Day
- The Story Part 2 (Picnic Park Birds)
- I’ll Fly The Sky Way
- The Story Part 3 (The City)
- A Cat Don’t Like…
- The Story Part 4 (The City)
- The Perfect Picnic
- The Story Part 5 (The Family)
- Orange Tree
Tracks 2 & 12 also released as a promotional 45 RPM single
Tracks 2, 4, 6 & 8 also released as a Disneyland FS-922, 33-1/3 RPM EP
Many times stories start out by saying, ‘Once upon a time.’ That usually means a story happened yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year, or many years ago. Our story is different. It’s ‘once upon a now.’ The Sherman Brothers introduce the Orange Bird with a typically catchy, lightly bossa nova-inflected song:
Little Orange Bird, in the Sunshine Tree, won’t you think of something funny just for me? Think of funny thoughts, or sunny words, that will make me happy, little Orange Bird!
The lonely Orange Bird, voiced by voice artist Robie Lester, decides to venture to the country, where he meets some “birds of a feather” at a picnic. These feathered friends like to “Sing All Day” and the song’s melody is a bit reminiscent of “The Charleston.” But when the Orange Bird tries to sing, only orange smoke appears! He’s mocked by the snooty birds of the choir and decides to concentrate on something more positive: “I’m going to think very hard about a vacation!” He resolves to “Fly the Sky Way,” where “no one will think it absurd/that I’m an Orange Bird/unable to speak or utter a sound,” in a jaunty march (“On my own, a rolling stone I’ll be!”).
Soon enough, the Orange Bird encounters his natural nemesis, a cat! The Shermans supply a slinky jazz tune that wouldn’t have been out of place in their score to 1970’s The Aristocats; in fact, perhaps that’s where it originated! Mike Sammes’ vocal on “A Cat Don’t Like…” is very much in the style of Phil Harris, the voice of Thomas O’Malley Cat in that film: “A cat don’t like what’s easy to come by/Easy to come by ain’t no treat/So make me sweat and fret till I get ya/A meal is more than something to eat!” But our hero eludes his potential captor, imagining a mouse that appears in his plume of orange smoke! Our feathered friend, though, is a bit naïve, believing an amber traffic signal to be another orange bird! Disappointed, he flies to a family picnic where “The Perfect Picnic” (“You’ll go bananas over every tangerine!”) is sung by a blithely happy family. Among the family members is Sam Edwards as the flustered father, and a very recognizable Ron Howard, post-Andy Griffith Show but pre-Happy Days, as the son who wishes to take the Orange Bird as a pet! Howard, of course, went on to direct some of the most beloved films of all time and netted an Academy Award for his direction of A Beautiful Mind. Howard can also be heard on Disneyland Records’ 1969 The Story and Song from The Haunted Mansion LP!
Of course, the patriarch demurs in keeping the Orange Bird as a pet, and the family heads home. But they don’t know that a bridge is out, just ahead! Who will save them? The Orange Bird thinks quick and imagines an orange stop sign: “Did you see that? That Orange Bird made that big orange stop sign to warn us! He saved our lives!” The grateful father agrees to allow their new friend to join them on vacation. He reminisces about his home, though, in the wistful ballad “Orange Tree” as the album concludes.
But the little Orange Bird’s activities weren’t limited to recording! He also appeared nationwide on billboards, advertisements and merchandise, and guests could meet the Orange Bird near the Sunshine Terrace in Adventureland. For a period, a 45 RPM single of “The Orange Bird Song” b/w “Orange Tree” was even distributed to Magic Kingdom guests for free! When the Florida Citrus Commission’s sponsorship ended in 1987, though, the Orange Bird flew away from the Sunshine Tree Terrace, along with his distinct colors: eventually even the orange and yellow stools at the stand made way for brown and beige ones! Japanese Disney fans embraced the character in 2004, when new merchandise began appearing at Tokyo Disneyland, and in 2005, Delta Airlines began including “The Orange Bird Song” as part of the in-flight music package on its Song flights. But his real renaissance has just begun.
Artist Jason Grandt, a concept designer at Walt Disney Imagineering and enthusiastic Orange Bird fan, announced his comeback early in the morning of April 17 to members of Disney’s D23 fan organization. The well-remembered Citrus Swirl has also returned as an offering at the Sunshine Tree Terrace, while new signage and the reinstated original figure of the Orange Bird have also been unveiled! Swell retro merchandise is now available for fans to take home, and even Richard Sherman is getting into the act. Sherman is readying new arrangements of “The Orange Bird Song” and “Orange Tree” for the 21st century!
One would think “Little Orange Bird,” at least, would have made it to a Sherman Brothers or Walt Disney World compilation in the CD era, but that hasn’t happened…yet. The dedication of Mr. Grandt, Mr. Sherman and the teams at Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney World has seen to it that the delightful little Orange Bird and his imaginative plumes of smoke won’t be forgotten again. The next time you’re visiting the Vacation Kingdom of the World, don’t forget to pay the little guy a call, okay?
We dedicated today’s Friday Feature to the memory of Robert B. Sherman.
For more on the Orange Bird including some fantastic memorabilia and interviews with Richard M. Sherman and Jason Grandt, check out this installment of D23’s Armchair Archivist on YouTube!