Monday, July 1, 2013

The Orange Bird

One of Walt Disney's oddest animated characters, The Orange Bird, has an equally odd history. He was created in 1970 as part of a deal inked between Disney and the Florida Citrus Commission, in which the commission would sponsor the "Tropical Serenade" attraction at Orlando's Walt Disney World and Disney animators would create this mascot for them to use in tie-in advertising and promotional items. The bird does not talk, sing, or whistle, but expresses himself with "orange-colored thoughts."

Throughout the 1970s, the Orange Bird was ubiquitous, appearing frequently in TV commercials with Anita Bryant (they also made a children's record together) and lining shelves with popular toys and figurines. He also appeared at Walt Disney World's Adventureland and Enchanted Tiki Room as a walk-around character - albeit in a strange costume that consisted of the Orange Bird's head atop an elongated humanoid body! - throughout the 1970s.

In the 1980s, you stopped seeing the Orange Bird so much. Somewhere along the way, he was removed from Walt Disney World's stable of walk-around characters. No one's really sure where he went. Some say he became a recluse and lived in the wilderness of Egmont Key and switched to drinking grape juice; others say he took up residence perched on the head of the Skunk Ape and drove the poor monster nuts with all his orange thoughts clouding up the swamp. And when Disney and the Florida Citrus Commission severed ties in 1987, the bird vanished entirely from the face of pop culture.

But in the 21st century, all of that changed. You can always count on Japan to be proper curators of our own pop culture history, and the Orange Bird experienced a huge revival as the Japanese appropriated the character to promote their annual Orange Day on April 14. Tokyo Disneyland got into the act, and eventually America finally got around to realizing they'd been letting one of their hottest properties languish too long. In 2012, the Orange Bird returned to its traditional place at the Sunshine Tree Terrace at Walt Disney World.

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