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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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 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 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.