19 April 2012

In the sunshine tree

I thought about dodging the Orange Bird issue this week, after all it is getting a ton of attention across the Disney community and I haven’t even offered up my thoughts on the return of the Citrus Swirl yet (patients, dedicated readers, my thoughts are coming). But, with dreary weather here I couldn’t help myself but to think some sunny thoughts and dive right in.

The Orange Bird, or more precisely the Florida Orange Bird, first flew into the hearts of the masses in 1970 as the mascot of the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC). When the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World opened in 1971, the Orange Bird joined the host of Disney animated characters the filled the corners of the park and met guests right outside of the Sunshine Tree Pavilion in Adventureland. Anita Bryant was tapped to be the other half of the Sunshine State’s orangey-duo, belting out the sweet, smile-inducing lyrics to The Orange Bird, a song crafted by another duo, the Sherman Brothers.

A collection of falling dominos caused the Florida Orange Bird to become, in the words of Roger Rabbit, “an innocent victim of circumstance.” The first domino, his long-time partner, Anita Bryant fell in 1977 when she took her talents to South Beach. Bryant began promoting an inflammatory campaign against anti-discrimination legislation in Miami, which left a bad taste in mouths everywhere. With Florida’s main export being citrus, and Bryant the face of the citrus society, she was arguably the face of Florida and such hate-filled message had no place with sunny thoughts. The Orange Bird continued on solo, but without a spokesperson to give words to his orange smoke thoughts, he was soon relegated to merchandise duties. The FCC renewed its sponsorship for five years beyond 1981, but the Orange Bird meet-and-greet character stopped making appearances and, when the sponsorship ended, the little birdie flew the coup.

Those who loved the Orange Bird never gave up hope that he would one day find a perch in the Sunshine Tree Pavilion again, even though every outward sign over the past twenty-plus years said we should. For those of us who grew up in Florida, we can remember seeing the smiling beak of the little bird long beyond his days at Walt Disney World at citrus stands around the state. Any native Floridian will tell you, we have orange juice for blood, and the Orange Bird is forever connected to our identity as a people.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the Orange Bird was returning to his home at the Sunshine Tree Terrace. Figurines, Orange Bird sip cups (sip cups in general are a throwback, aren’t they?), shirts, pins, hats, you name it the Orange Bird has his shining face on it now! The question is, should he have returned at all?

The argument any time something is changed is that Walt always wanted to see things changing, that the keep moving forward attitude doesn’t make a ton of sense if all we want to do is hold on to what we have or had. The other side of the dispute likes to remind us that while Walt had one eye to the future, he also had one foot in the past, as is evident by the stories told throughout Disneyland. The reality is, Walt Disney World’s attractions are like friends, you know the old saying, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”

It is a fine line to walk, however, if we are being perfectly honest with ourselves, we know that the Orange Bird we see today is bright, and shiny and new, especially for guests who were born after the mid-1980’s. The way he is presented is new to all of us. Never before have we seen him on a pair of mouse ears or wearing a pair of mouse ears, that is a modern development. We know and love the Orange Bird and the brains at Disney (I’d like to take a moment to thank Jason Grandt here. You sir, continually find ways to amaze me and make me smile!) have found the perfect way to honor the old and ring in the new with the return of the Florida Orange Bird.

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