Orange Thoughts of an Orange Bird

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

Orange Thoughts of an Orange Bird

"Little Orange Bird in the Sunshine Tree
Won't you think of something sunny just for me?
Think funny thoughts or sunny words
That will make me happy, little Orange Bird
He thinks beautiful orange pictures and beautiful orange words
Though his little feet can't even make a squeak
All the thoughts he ever spoke appear in orange smoke
That's what makes Orange Bird unique
When you're just about green with envy
Or gonna be feeling blue
And you could use
An orange thought or two
When you start in blushing pink
Or your temper turns you red
That is when the Orange Bird
Can see you through
With his beautiful orange feathers
And beautiful leafy wings
He's a fluffy little puffy sight to see
He can turn your frown around
When you see him looking down
The little Orange Bird up in the Sunshine Tree"

Those are the lyrics for a once-popular Sherman Brothers song telling the story of a Disney cartoon character who may be completely unfamiliar to a modern generation: The Florida Orange Bird.

As a West Coast Disney fan, I ran across a multitude of Florida Orange Bird memorabilia at various swap meets and conventions and had no clue who the character was. Often, the merchandise would have a big "Florida" logo but it still all had the Walt Disney Productions copyright.

It took me quite awhile to figure out that this little bird who had a huge head in the shape of an orange with two green leaves sticking out of the top of his head and a collar of green leaves and even feathered arms that were green leaves was a uniquely Florida creation.

In 1968 the Florida Citrus Commission had signed Anita Bryant, a former Miss America contestant, as their official spokesperson. Three years later with the opening of the Magic Kingdom theme park in Florida, she was teamed with the Disney created bird mascot in publicity photos and commercials, most of which ended with the line, "from the Sunshine Tree."

In the 1950s, the Walt Disney Company was responsible for the creation and design of many advertising figures for other companies including Fresh Up Freddie for 7-UP and Tommy Mohawk for Mohawk Carpets. In fact, the Disney Company even has a long relationship with Florida orange juice.

Located in Lake Wales, Florida, not far from Walt Disney World, Florida's Natural Growers, is a cooperative of citrus growers founded in 1933 who own their own groves in the heart of Central Florida. In 1941, the cooperative signed an important licensing agreement with the Walt Disney Company, to establish the Donald Duck brand of orange juice. It is the longest surviving Disney licensee.

Currently, the cooperative produces frozen concentrated and not-from-concentrate juices (orange, apple, grapefruit, lemonade, and fruit blends) under the Florida's Natural, Growers Pride, Bluebird, Texsun, Donald Duck, and Ruby Red brand names.

The little Orange Bird was developed as part of a commercial sponsorship agreement with Florida Orange Growers. The bird was to be "the friendly face of Florida sunshine and fresh squeezed Florida orange juice".

Walt Disney Productions entered into negotiations with the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC) for a Florida Citrus Growers sponsored Magic Kingdom attraction in 1967. A contract was signed on Oct. 22, 1969, formalizing the FCC's underwriting of a "tropical bird show" at a cost of $3 million. The following year, 1970, WED Enterprises created the Orange Bird character to serve as the FCC's official mascot in promotional campaigns.

The character was designed by C. Robert "Bob" Moore who handled many special projects for the Disney Company including designing the Walt Disney postage stamp and the eagle mascot for the 1984 Olympic games.

On the roads to the Magic Kingdom, visitors would see billboards, souvenir stands and other advertisements showcasing the Orange Bird. Once those visitors actually visited the Magic Kingdom, they found the little bird in his permanent home: the Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland.

When the Tropical Serenade show (a duplicate of Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room show) finished, guests exited by the Sunshine Tree Terrace for a cool dessert and sometimes a visit with none other than the Orange Bird himself.

The Terrace was a $3 million pavilion sponsored by the Florida Orange Growers. Drinks and slushes and Orange sippers and the "Citrus Orange Swirl" were the featured items. Strangely, only frozen—not fresh—orange juice was used.

A variety of citrus crops, including oranges, grow in the Polynesian Islands so it was not out of the ordinary to use this area to showcase Florida citrus surrounded by tikis and thatched roofs. Amazingly, growing from the back of the Sunshine Tree Terrace location was a huge tree whose leafy branches provided a roof over the serving area. This was the famous Sunshine Tree and orange blossoms and oranges bloomed from its artificial branches.

Just like the Swiss Family Treehouse, this was a man-made Disney creation with translucent green plastic leaves, fake oranges and orange blossoms. On a lower perch was a small three-dimensional Orange Bird. Above his head was a small screen upon which was projected happy orange thoughts from a projector in the back wall. Since, according to the song, the bird was unable to talk, he communicated through these orange thoughts that would appear over his head.

Adjacent to the building that had the Guest Food and Beverage, but not in the Guest area was a VIP room with a guest book. The VIP room was generally used by friends and family of the Florida Citrus Commission

A 15-minute loop of tropical music played at the location.

In addition to the little figure in the branches of the tree, there was a walk-around costumed character Orange Bird with a big head and a pajama suit type body.

There was a plethora of Orange Bird merchandise: mugs, bobble heads, a variety of PVC character figures, plates, salt and pepper shakers, glasses, sticker books, banks and even a musical souvenir.

The Florida Orange Bird released a full-length LP in 1971 (Disneyland Records STER-3991) that included an illustrated 10-page storybook. It was narrated by Anita Bryant, who also sang the songs with back-up by the Mike Sammes Singers. Sam Edwards did the voice of the father.

On the front cover, a smiling Anita Bryant held the little Orange Bird in her left hand (out of the bird's mouth came several orange colored hearts) while in the background, a blue Walt Disney World Monorail sped over the Sunshine Terrace. It was a physical impossibility but it looked cool.

"Anita Bryant Sings and Narrates Walt Disney Studio's 'The Orange Bird.' You can see the Orange Bird in the Sunshine Tree at Walt Disney World. A magnificent full-color illustrated book and long-playing record."

Side One:

[1] "The Orange Bird Song"

[2] "Sing All Day"

[3] "I'll Fly the Sky-Way"

[4] "A Cat Don't Like..."

Side Two:

[1] "The Perfect Picnic"

[2] "Orange Tree"

"The Orange Bird" story in the storybook was adapted by Jimmy Johnson from a story by Vince Jefferds.

"The Orange Bird was different than other birds. He looked different, and he couldn't speak or sing like other birds could. He had a special way of thinking. He thought orange thoughts—and because they were nice thoughts, he enjoyed looking at them after he thought them.

One day the Orange Bird went to a park. He met some other birds there and tried to sing with them. All that came out was one big orange note in the air. The others all laughed at him. He felt very lonesome indeed.

It certainly was discouraging, the Orange Bird thought. (This didn't show up as an orange word because he couldn't spell discouraging.)

The Orange Bird decided to take a trip. He thought he would go south where it was warm and sunny, and perhaps he could make new friends there."

The Orange Bird came to a city and was attacked by a cat. He saved himself by thinking of an orange mouse that distracted the cat. The little Orange Bird escaped and the cat ended up with a mouthful of orange smoke from the orange thought.

The bird thought he saw a birdhouse with an orange bird in it but it turned out to be a traffic light. He finally flew over a picnic park where a family was having a picnic.

He flew down to the children and thought up a big orange "I LoveYou" to try to tell the family his feeling for them. But the father told the children that they all had a long drive ahead of them, and he didn't want to take an orange bird along which might fill the car with orange smoke.

The family piled into their car and drove off down the highway. The Orange Bird felt so bad at seeing them go that he flew along the same highway so fast that he got way ahead of them came upon a bridge which had been washed out by the winter storms.

He flew in front of the car and thought up a huge orange stop sign. The father slammed on his brakes just in time. The happy and grateful family made sure "the Orange Bird never had to worry about a home again".

Unfortunately, in 1977, Anita Bryant became a very visible and vocal opponent against anti-discrimination legislation in Miami where she lived. Her public and vocal opposition to homosexuality lead to a boycott of Florida citrus products. The Florida Citrus Commission ended its relationship with the singer.

While the little Orange Bird survived, he was left without a public spokesperson to speak his thoughts and sing his praises.

Disney and the FCC signed a new, five-year sponsorship agreement in 1981, maintaining their formal connection to the Sunshine Tree Terrace and the Tropical Serenade. They also negotiated another juice bar in the form of Fantasyland's Enchanted Grove.

By that time, the Orange Bird had ceased to appear in television commercials and was primarily a licensed character whose likeness continued to appear on merchandise sold at souvenir shops and orange fruit stands throughout the state. In 1986 the Florida Citrus Commission and Walt Disney World parted ways.

The Florida Orange Bird starred in his own animated short cartoon. "Foods and Fun: A Nutritional Adventure" was released in September 1980. It featured the Orange Bird and great lessons on good nutrition and proper exercise. To accompany the film and available to schools, the Walt Disney Educational Media Company produced a comic book "The Orange Bird in Nutrition Adventures."

By 1986, the contract expired and the tiny Orange Bird who only thought in orange thoughts was removed quietly and quickly. By the beginning of the new century, the entire orange Sunshine Tree was removed although longtime Disney fans can spot a few remnants.

Although Orange Bird merchandise remained a staple of citrus grove stands and tourist area T-shirt shops well into the 1990s, his star was clearly fading until

Tokyo Disneyland began to produce its own, unique Orange Bird merchandise line around 2004.

The Japanese liked the cuteness of the bigheaded, big-eyed, babylike character. Also, in Japan, April 14 is "Orange Day," a holiday where people exchange citrus fruits with the objects of their affection. By 2006, more varieties of Orange Bird merchandise had been produced in Japan than were created over the full span of the character's U.S. career.

Before writing this article, I wish I had attended the 2007 Hukilau in Florida. "Hukilau" is an annual event celebrating Hawaiian and Polynesian pop culture while honoring a historic Tiki bar.

The first event held in 2002, honoring Trader Vic's Atlanta, was three days of entertainment and events. Hukilau saw a change of location in 2003 when it honored the Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (open since 1956), where it has been held for the last few years.

In June 2007, the Hukilau featured Disney artists Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily. For the Walt Disney Company, they have designed theme-park environments, parades and merchandise. In 2005, Kevin and Jody received national attention and acclaim for more than 200 items they created to mark Disneyland's 50th Anniversary.

At the Hukilau, they had a presentation titled "Tiki Lands in a Disney World." Kevin and Jody were to talk about Walt Disney World's original Polynesian Village, the Tropical Serenade show and were to tell "more about the Florida Orange Bird than you ever thought possible."

So if any MousePlanet readers attended and took good notes, feel free to send them along so we can share them with other Orange Bird fans and honor this unusual Disney character.