An ornate sign marks the entrance to an attraction. In fancy script, it reads, Welcome to the Adventureland Treehouse inspired by Walt Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson. Around the edges of the sign is a border designed to look like green branches. Above it is the inverted V shape of the eave of an Alpine roof, as if to protect the sign from the elements and also make it look a bit like a house itself.

Adventureland Treehouse Combines Legacy Elements and New Innovations

By Bruce C. Steele

Honoring the legacy of the founder of Disneyland Park, the reimagined Adventureland Treehouse inspired by Walt Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson opens to guests on Friday, November 10. As the name indicates, Disney Imagineers took inspiration from Walt Disney’s original 1962 attraction—the former Swiss Family Treehouse is once again the home of a remarkable family, filled with contraptions made from jungle resources—but the story has been updated for the next generation of parkgoers. “It’s still about a family that built this amazing home together out of just their shared creativity and innovativeness,” said Kim Irvine, Executive Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, during a preview tour of the attraction this past Friday. “But we really wanted this to be [experienced] so that anybody could imagine they lived here.”

An innovative family this is indeed! The father is an inventor and chef—a combination of skills evident in the cleverly automated kitchen—while the mother is a musician who can play any instrument. Their daughter is an aspiring astronomer and artist, while her twin younger brothers are nature lovers, one fascinated by animals, the other by plant life.

An image of the Adventureland Treehouse looking from the ground up to its peak features the working waterwheel in the foreground and the stairways behind and above it, snaking around the trunk of the banyan tree.

The tour begins with an homage to the original treehouse attraction: a waterwheel seemingly made of bamboo and wood, powered by flowing water. “We brought the waterwheel back, thanks to our great partner Becky Cline,” Irvine recounted, referring to the director of the Walt Disney Archives. “I called her and said, ‘We really want to rebuild that waterwheel. Do you have any drawings?’ And she said, ‘Kim, I think I have the waterwheel.’ They had it at a warehouse. It didn’t run anymore, but we were able to take it and recreate the whole thing, making molds off of the original. It’s just like the original waterwheel—with a few enhancements.”

The waterwheel is integral to the family’s innovations throughout the treehouse. “Our story is that everything that the family has created actually runs off of this mystical water from a spring underneath the tree,” Irvine said. “The water rises up into the rooms [and flows] through all the different bamboo pipes to the different cisterns. And that’s how they run all the pieces of magic in each room.”

The treehouse kitchen is on the ground level. It has a picnic-style dining table on the left, and an elaborate stove in the back, next to a cabinet and some shelving. In the foreground is a seating area with a few mismatched wooden chairs arranged around a small, low table.

On the ground level is that busy kitchen, where the father “has made everything automated,” Irvine explained. “The pots stir themselves. The kettle heats itself. So, even though he’s fine with being the chef of the family, he’s figured out how to make it an easy job.”

The head of an ostrich is visible above a wall made of bamboo. This is the animated Jane, the family’s pet.

Also in the kitchen, guests will meet the family’s pet ostrich, Jane—a nod to the attraction’s previous incarnation as Tarzan’s Treehouse. Jane is mostly hidden by the wall of her enclosure, but her expressive head pops up over the barrier to take stock of everyone who comes to visit.

Three paintings are lined up, each sitting on an easel, on a terrace or platform. From left to right, the paintings portray the twin boys’ nature-themed room, the daughter’s astronomy-themed room, and the mother’s music room.

Adjacent to the kitchen is the father’s workshop, with drawings of many of the inventions guests will encounter on higher levels, as well as a terrace that serves as a gallery for the family member’s drawings of their upper rooms: the mother’s and daughter’s in oils, and the younger boys’ in watercolor and pastels.

The rest of the treehouse is accessible by the stairway that weaves its way up through the branches of the banyan tree—although the sketches and paintings on the ground level provide a glimpse of the rest of the home for those who can’t make the climb.

An elaborately carved and constructed pipe organ is automated to play on its own. Above the keyboard is the turning cylinder that determines the music to be played, and above that are pipes that appear to be made from bamboo. Behind and above the pipes are a self-playing violin and two tambourines. Various animal figurines stand in different positions around the instrument, including an elephant, a squirrel, and two cranes.

The first stop in the higher levels is the mother’s room, featuring a self-playing pump organ and a host of other instruments, including “a violin that animates along with the organ,” Irvine pointed out. It’s a jam-packed space, full of figurines of animals, so the mother also has a sleeping loft above the walkway. (Look for the ladder.)

Behind the pipe organ is a reading alcove with chairs and a small table. Here, observant guests will note more references to the attraction’s earlier identities: two books titled Swiss Family Robinson and Tarzan of the Apes!

The daughter’s room is stuffed with astronomic paraphernalia. At the center is a large telescope, homemade from a small barrel and a sailor’s telescope. Around it are related objects, including a model of the solar system, a map of the night sky pinned to the wall, and much more.

The daughter’s combination study and observatory is next, with a domed roof that opens up so the daughter can observe the night sky through the powerful telescope she has fashioned from a small barrel. Here the story also alludes to the well-known Disney Parks mythology of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, as an S.E.A. member has been corresponding with the daughter and provided the lens for her telescope. (Look for the letter from the S.E.A. on the daughter’s desk.)

The twin boys’ room features their pet monkey, Rascal, hanging from the ceiling at the center; a toucan perched on the left; a series of birdhouses beyond the toucan along the left wall; and a frog incubator, partially visible on the right. Plants in pots also hang from the ceiling.

The boys’ room is next, bustling with jungle life. At the center is the boys’ pet monkey, Rascal, swinging from the ceiling in an effort to turn the dial on a timing device to the setting for “Feed Monkey.” There’s also a frog incubator with swimming polliwogs, and a collection of homemade birdhouses—along with a few of their feathered occupants.

Before descending, guests will want to stop a moment to enjoy the unique perspective from the tree’s higher branches. “The view of Disneyland from here is just amazing,” Irvine said. “That’s one of the things that we love so much about the tree—where else do you get to be this high up and really look out over the park like this?”

Guests can see that panoramic view again beginning Friday, November 10.

Check out an enchanting video and audio tour of the Adventureland Treehouse inspired by Walt Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson, above.