The real estate market in Southern California is brutal, especially inside Disneyland's Adventureland.
Tarzan has officially been kicked out of his treehouse at the Anaheim theme park, given the boot for a crafty family of explorers. The new residents move in Nov. 10, when the Adventureland Treehouse Inspired by Walt Disney's Swiss Family Robinson (yes, that's the full name) opens its doors to parkgoers.
Disneyland provided media a tour of the treehouse Friday morning, and those familiar with the previous Tarzan's Treehouse, which closed last year, will find a much more lively space. Gone are the static animals of yore, replaced by a bevy of animatronic and mechanical critters, self-playing instruments and a dazzling, functional waterwheel, a throwback to the original Swiss Family Treehouse that opened at Disneyland in 1962.
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There's still a lot of climbing, and the upper floors remain inaccessible for those who can't make the jaunt, but the ground floor is likely the place that will enchant most guests. It's there we encounter Jane, a robotic ostrich who offers plenty of side-eye toward the tourists visiting her home. But more on Jane in a second. Also on the ground floor is a room of artwork featuring interpretations of each major space in the treehouse, which is designed to give guests who can't make the climb a taste of what's inside.
So let's have a look. Here are five quick things to know about the revamped Adventureland Treehouse.
1. It's a rare park experience that isn't tied to a Disney film
When Tarazan's Treehouse went down for refurbishment, rumors swirled as to what properties the revamped space would be inspired by. Social media seemed to settle on "Encanto," noting that the character of Antonio had a magical, animal-embracing woodland home. It wasn't to be. While the Adventureland Treehouse has plenty of nods to prior Disney properties — copies of the books "Tarzan of the Apes" and "Swiss Family Robinson" are found in a little library — the space is one of the rare ones in the entirety of the Disneyland Resort to not be associated with a film or television series.
Kim Irvine, the Walt Disney Imagineer who has long served as Disneyland's art director, said the creative and executive teams wanted to build an experience that evoked the Walt Disney era without directly being tied to one property, especially as the park approaches its 70th anniversary in 2025.
"I think that the idea was very enticing to our executive team to re-create something that was actually Walt's dream, and go back, especially with our anniversaries that we're having, to make it Inspired by Walt Disney's Swiss Family Robinson," Irvine said. "We talked about a lot about other IPs and such, but this seemed to resonate."
Still, there is a brief allusion to "Encanto." Be on the lookout for a Victrola in one of the upper rooms, which Irvine said was inspired by the look and colors of the animated film.
2. The idea is for guests to dream up their own Treehouse stories
As the story goes, the Adventureland Treehouse is home to a family of five, led by a musician mother and a father who is a chef. A popular question was to ask Irvine to reveal the family's names. She wasn't saying, as Disney is keeping the family's lineage a little vague. We know, for instance, the daughter is studying to be an astronomer and is fascinated with astrology, and we can see the twin sons are nature buffs, but the Adventureland Treehouse focuses on environmental rather than narrative storytelling.
This allows guests to graft their own tales onto the Adventureland Treehouse and the family that lives there. "We thought about the 'Swiss Family Robinson' story, but thought maybe that wasn't that relevant to people of today," Irvine said. "So what if we are inspired by that story and it is about a family that made this amazing home together our of their sheer creativity and innovativeness, but made it a different family? So we changed up their roles."
The ground floor features the father's cooking space, complete with a glowing fireplace and a bevy of pinwheels. Mother's room is home to a vintage-style pedal organ, playing, of course, "Swisskapolka." The daughter's room has a mystical bent, filled with art and a striking telescope. But the presence of the sons is felt everywhere, as one "collects animals," said Irvine, and the tree is dotted with an assortment of critters.
3. Jane the ostrich is a star of the attraction
The ground-floor space is home to one of the showcase moments of the Adventureland Treehouse, as it's here guests will come face-to-face with the aforementioned Jane the ostrich. While the "Swiss Family Robinson" film had an assortment of animals, including an ostrich, Jane, of course, takes her name from "Tarzan."
We primarily see Jane's neck and face, bobbing and moving back and forth behind a fence. Occasionally Jane stops to look at us, seemingly with suspicion.
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"There was an ostrich and a lot of animals in 'Swiss Family,' and it's so fun for kids to have animals," said Irvine, adding, "Ostriches have so much humor and character to them. It seems like the perfect pet for them to have."
But it's not the family's only pet. A clever scene can be found at the very top of the treehouse in an animal feeding room. Here guests will spy a hanging monkey, trying to manipulate a timer that is designed to release food. The monkey's name is Rascal. But don't overlook the toucan, or the hopping tiny frogs, as the Adventureland Treehouse is full of life.
4. Disney re-created a key element of the original Swiss Family Treehouse
A staple of the original Swiss Family Treehouse that was removed for the "Tarzan" refresh was a working waterwheel at its base, which carried buckets of recycled water up to the top of the home. Irvine said the team wanted to bring back the water feature, which adds some motion and energy to Adventureland. She went seeking concept art and photographs of the waterwheel, with the help of Becky Cline of the Walt Disney Archives.
"She said, 'Kim, I think I have the waterwheel,'" Irvine said. "The collector that she is, they had it back in the parking lot of a warehouse. We were able to take it. It didn't run anymore. It was in pieces." But Disney took molds from the original waterwheel to create the new one, wanting the Adventureland Treehouse to truly hark back to the park's past.
From a narrative standpoint, the water has magic abilities. "Our story is that everything that the family has created actually runs off this mystical water running underneath the tree from a spring," Irvine said. Pay special attention to the music room, where a brass-looking, water-spewing elephant trunk fuels the instruments.
5. You'll find nods to the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (IYKYK)
When introducing the Adventureland Treehouse to media, Irvine noted it was time to give the space a makeover.
"Through the years, it became a little less popular," Irvine said of the Swiss Family Treehouse, which received its first remodel in 1999. "'Tarzan' the movie came out, so we decided maybe we should put IP in there and change the story to 'Tarzan.' That was successful for many years. ... But come forward to now, we thought that IP was not really that popular anymore and we really [wanted] to keep that tree."
Disney took the opportunity with the remodel to tie the Adventureland Treehouse into the broader Disney narrative of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. What's the Society of Explorers and Adventurers? That's a connected narrative universe found only in the Disney theme parks, most notably in the U.S. at and around the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland and Florida's Walt Disney World.
Here, guests will spot a Society of Explorers and Adventurers banner hanging out of the daughter's room, as well as correspondence in the space with the group's astronomer. It's all kept a little vague, though, as the Society of Explorers and Adventurers is for the theme park fan who wants to dig deep.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.