More Orange Thoughts of an Orange Bird

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

Back in 2007, I wrote a column titled “Orange Thoughts of an Orange Bird” (link) in the hopes that others would share their knowledge of the Disney character, the Florida Orange Bird, or reveal some facts or anecdotes I never knew. I even tried to pique the curiosity of Kevin Kidney to share what he might know—to no avail. Sometimes folks have something to add and sometimes they don’t. In the case of the poor little Orange Bird, while readers enjoyed remembering the character, they were as clueless as I was about any further details than what I had found.

So, rolling up my sleeves, I plunged back into doing some additional research and thanks to some good fortune, I was able to find some more information on this character who still brings a smile to the faces of many Disney fans.

While there are many pieces of Orange Bird merchandise, most fans are primarily familiar with items like cups, pins, PVC figures and a plastic bank that was available for sale at least a decade or more after the Orange Bird’s final appearance. One item that is sometimes forgotten is the Orange Bird Sticker Fun Book, released in 1974 from Whitman publishing.

This 16-page book has one large picture on each page, with an appropriate blank space to paste in an appropriate sticker (usually the Orange Bird or part of the Orange Bird, like a head). The first page states “Based on the original Orange Bird Story by Vince Jefferds” which is the only credit in the book. The copyright is by Walt Disney Productions. The cover features the happy bird with an Orange Bird sticker in his left leaf wing to place in a sticker book. The story follows the standard storyline of the bird who can’t sing and only communicates through puffy orange cloud thought balloons near his head, flying south, and befriending a family. After he rescues them from driving off a washed out broken bridge, he is adopted as part of the family.

There was a walkaround Orange Bird character at the Sunshine Terrace in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom and some of those photos of the costumed character pop up on various Websites. The little Orange Bird also appeared in animated form in commercials, usually featuring Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant.

In a one-minute commercial, Bryant wakes up her son Billy and daughter Barbara. In their bedroom on a dresser is a bird house box decorated with pictures of oranges. Bryant lifts the top off to reveal an animated Orange Bird waking up, as well. The Orange Bird follows them to the kitchen, flying over the kitchen table. Later, when Bryant looks out the window, the animated bird is flying around oranges high in the trees and thinking “Serve It Generously.”

However, those one-minute commercials were not the only animated adventure of the Orange Bird. He appeared in his own animated Disney short in 1980.

Foods and Fun: A Nutrition Adventure (1980) was a 12-minute animated short for the Walt Disney Educational Media department that starred the Florida Orange Bird. The short was produced and animated by Rick Reinert Productions.

Rick Reinert Productions was a small, independent animation studio in the North Hollywood area that was very active throughout the 1980s. It had produced clever public service animated spots like Periodontal Disease (1979) for the American Dental Association.

In 1981, Reinert Productions was responsible for producing and animating the educational film Winnie the Pooh Discovers the Seasons for Walt Disney Educational Media. Disney was so impressed with their work that they were given the assignment to produce and animate the next theatrically released Winnie the Pooh animated featurette, Winnie the Pooh and A Day for Eeyore (1983). It was the first time in nearly 40 years that Disney outsourced one of its theatrical cartoons. The first time was in 1938 when Harman-Ising produced and animated MerBabies for the Silly Symphony shorts.

Reinert also did a lot of work for ABC and their Saturday morning cartoons including interstitials and half-hour specials. These specials included the Captain O.G. Readmore specials like Jack and the Beanstalk (1985) O.G. Readmore Meets Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1986) and Puss In Boots (1988). One of my personal favorites was the half-hour adaptation of the Art Buchwald story of leopards, The Bollo Caper (1985).

For many years, I have been honored to know Dave Bennett, one of the most talented and nicest people in the animation business. Seeing Bennett’s clean, playfully expressive artwork always brings a smile to my face. One of his major influences was the work of Disney artist (and ACG comic book artist) Jack Bradbury. It was while working on the Orange Bird film that Bennett finally was able to track Bradbury down and meet him in person after years of searching. They became good friends (Bennett took Bradbury to his first ever San Diego Convention among other things) and was able to get Bradbury a good deal of recognition again in both the fan and professional community before Bradbury death.

As always, Bennett was very gracious and generous when I asked him to share some of his memories working on that one and only Orange Bird animated short:

“Rick Reinert Productions had been doing educational filmstrip art for Disney with their classic cartoon characters for over a year while we were still located in Cleveland, Ohio. Disney liked working with us—but soon got very tired of traveling to Ohio, and said that they would be happy to continue using our skills IF we moved to Los Angeles! We packed our bags immediately!

“We were out in Los Angeles for about a year doing several filmstrips a month when Disney asked us if we could do a film.

"'Sure! That's what we do best!' we said.

“So they gave us that low-key Orange Bird project as more-or-less a 'test' to see if we could handle the higher profile Winnie the Pooh Discovers the Seasons film that they had waiting in the wings for us.

“There were no Orange Bird model sheets. We cobbled together a few pieces of publicity art, and Ennis McNulty augmented that with some really cute poses. Rick designed the Toucan and the other birds, I designed a squirrel and the Owl, and Ennis designed the human family and the Orange Bird's house, I think.

“I wasn't invited to any of the voice sessions -- that was Rick's domain. But I knew June [Foray] and Hal [Smith] from other projects we had worked on … and Hal would be our Winnie the Pooh in two subsequent films! I was young and full of energy and everything was exciting for a boy from Ohio! I didn't really animate any of the characters—just did a lot of extensive character layouts that were given to the animators.

“We were such a small shop that all of us wore a lot of hats but my duties included character and prop design, storyboarding, track editing and reading, timing out the exposure sheets for the animators, layout, assistant animating, shooting pencil tests on the 16mm Oxberry in our back room, checking, cel painting and going to the red carpet premiere. (That last one is just my silly joke!)

“I never heard anything about our film—good or bad—once we turned it over to Disney. We did several Orange Bird filmstrips, though, that co-starred that Toucan and a Parrot lady with a pearl necklace (Macaw) that I remember designing. The stories were mysteries centered around food and nutrition!

“This was all done in our tiny little studio in the crook of an on-ramp to the Ventura Freeway. We were three miles west of the Disney Studios in North Hollywood. The animators who worked on this film were kind of a motley assemblage of Hanna-Barbera moonlighters, Disney young bucks, guys Rick knew from his Tom and Jerry days, and a few fellows I knew from working on Raggedy Ann and Andy!”

The animated short about the Orange Bird begins with gentle music as the camera pans over a grove of orange trees. As narrated by the amazing Rex Allen (who supplied narration for several Disney live-action animal films), the story concerns a community of houses high in the trees called Birdville. These are very elaborate Victorian style houses. Most of the residents have left to fly south leaving the poor little Orange Bird sad. He doesn’t sing or talk, but bright orange images appear over his head in a puffy cloud to illustrate his thoughts and feelings. The other birds don’t want to fly south with him because, as a Toucan tells him, the Orange Bird doesn’t look strong enough to keep up with the rest of the flock.

The Orange Bird visits a nearsighted Dr. Owl who mistakes a bird skeleton for the Orange Bird. However, the doctor does give good advice that a good night’s sleep, a balanced diet (grain, protein, calcium, fruits/vegetables) and exercise should get the little fellow in good shape. The new regime works and the Orange Bird has no trouble flying to the Everglades where he barely escapes the jaws of an alligator.

At a nearby beach, he befriends a young boy and girl who are building a sand castle. Their father refuses their request to take the bird home, claiming they have enough pets already. However, he changes his mind when the Orange Bird saves him from going to fish off an unsafe pier that collapses as soon as the bird alights on it. The father decides there is always room for one more friend.

There is a family picnic on the beach where the family sings about the joys of a balanced diet while the Orange Bird makes a sandwich. The narrator intones, “And this is how our story ends…Orange Bird has found his friends.”

The story follows fairly closely with the established storyline for the Orange Bird with the biggest change being that in the official story, the Orange Bird saves the entire family from driving off a washed out wooden bridge rather than father about to set foot on a dangerous pier.

Here are the credits for the film:

Directed by Rick Reinert

Animation Directors: Ennis McNulty, Dave Bennett

Original Story: Vince Jefferds

Film Script: Vince Jefferds, Cal Howard, Gregg Crosby

Voices: Rex Allen (narrator), June Foray, Ilene Latter, Hal Smith (Foray and Smith do multiple different voices.)

Animators: Irv Anderson, Bob Bemiller, Frankie Gonzales, Jeff Hall, Dan Haskett, Bill Kroyer, Manny Perez, Joe Roman, Tim Walker, Phil Young

Assistant Animators: Susan Kroyer, Sammie Lanham, Jack Parr, Kevin Petrikllak, Joanna Romersa, Darrell Rooney, Bob Treat, Bob Tyler

Backgrounds: Rick Reinert

Ink and Paint: Bev Chiara, Gretchen Blumenstein, Kathy Hric, Animation Camera Services

Music: Will Schaffer

Camera: Ted Bemiller and Sons Camera

Story Editor: Bob Huber

Production Manager: Sharyn Timmons

To tie in with the release of this film, Walt Disney Educational Media produced a supplemental comic book, very similar to other comics it produced at that time, including Mickey and Goofy Explore Energy and Mickey and Goofy Explore Business.

Orange Bird in Nutrition Adventures (1980) is a 32-page comic book with three separate stories written by Diana Gabaldon and drawn by Tony Strobl.

Gabaldon is an award-winning, best-selling novelist. She holds a bachelor's degree in zoology, a master's in marine biology and a Ph.D in ecology from a variety of universities. In 1979, she began writing comic book scripts for Disney Comics after being mentored by legendary editor Del Connell. She sold several Disney stories during the next 18 months. Connell enjoyed her writing and she ended up writing Disney comic book stories for foreign markets, as well as writing the Orange Bird stories for Disney Educational Media.

Strobl was hired at the Disney Studio in 1938 and worked as an animator on several features, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Dumbo and Pinocchio. After serving in World War II, he briefly returned to animation before moving over into comic books. He started working for Western Publishing in 1947. Like many comic book artists working for Western at the time, he illustrated many different characters although his work on the Donald Duck family of characters is very well remembered. He also supplied artwork for coloring books, puzzles and more and, toward the end of his career, produced artwork for Disney comic books for the foreign markets. He retired in 1987. He also supplied the artwork for Mickey and Goofy Explore Energy and Mickey and Goofy Explore Business.

As Dave Bennett remembers, “Tony Strobl came to our studios [Rick Reinert Productions] for as much reference material as he could carry!”

Because Strobl did the artwork, the stories look very similar to his Donald Duck comic books stories with familiar supporting characters designs and layouts, but just missing the more famous Disney ducks.

The front cover of the comic book has Toucan and Macaw (an elderly female bird who is either Toucan’s wife or girlfriend) driving a horse-drawn cart with lots of prize fruits and vegetables to the State Fair while the Orange Bird flies above dreaming of a first-place Blue Ribbon award.

In “Helping Out” (11 pages), Toucan, Macaw and Orange Bird have agreed to help Farmer Brown with his chores. Orange Bird convinces the group to stop for breakfast first, but an argument takes place about what is suitable to eat for the morning meal. So, they don’t get breakfast at all and have to rush off to the farm.

Macaw drives the tractor, but since she accidentally ate some doughnuts at the diner, she feels dizzy and runs out of energy and smashes the tractor through the barn. Toucan had no breakfast at all and so can’t focus his attention so as he milks the cows, he gets kicked by one of them. The Orange Bird picks apples in the orchard but runs out of energy despite the fresh air and exercise because he has had nothing to eat after a good night’s sleep.

Farmer Brown gives them all a healthy breakfast but, while he is outside, he is confronted by a bull that has gotten loose. Using the energy they now have, Toucan, Macaw and Orange Bird use red flannel underwear as a red cape to maneuver the fierce bull back into its stall in the barn.

In “A Day Off” (11 pages), Toucan is frustrated mowing the lawn in his front yard because the grass seems to grow as fast as he cuts it. Toucan, Macaw and Orange Bird decide to relax by taking a sail out to Coconut Island for a cookout. They pack a picnic basket with nuts, raisins, celery, grapes, and bananas.

They run into some challenges, including a hungry shark and a pouring rainstorm, and they end up tossed on to the island where the local monkeys steal their bananas. As Toucan tries to retrieve the bananas from the monkeys in the palm trees, one of them hits Toucan on his head with a coconut that Macaw decides to use as dessert.

For the cookout, they all have hamburgers (without salt because too much salt is bad) with lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese. Afterward, they sail home but as they dock, Toucan gets hit by the yardarm and falls overboard. He decides the next time he needs a rest, he’ll stay home and mow games.

In “Fair Day” (10 pages), Toucan, Macaw and Orange Bird go to the State Fair. Toucan has grown a gigantic tomato that he hopes will win the first-prize blue ribbon. In this story, Orange Bird doesn’t think in terms of images but with orange thought balloons like “This is fun!” and “Watch out!”

There is a black bird competitor with a smaller tomato who tries to destroy Toucan’s tomato, but fails—thanks to the intervention of the helpful Orange Bird. In the judging tent, the competition is amazing with a cool cucumber, pretty broccoli, zucchini, and a huge lettuce. While all the entrants leave to enjoy the Fair until the judging time at noon, the black bird steals all the other entries and hides them in Fearless Fred’s cannon. Fred is a human cannonball who will be shot out of the cannon at noon.

When the contestants return, they discover there is only one entry: the black bird’s tomato. Before the judges can present the award to the only entrant, Fearless Fred launches and scatters the sky with a mixed salad. The resourceful Orange Bird dishes out bowls for the bird people to have vegetable salad.

The bad bird gets clunked on the head with a horseshoe and drops his tomato so that it smashes. The two bird judges decide to award every entrant a blue ribbon for their delicious salad.

I tell people there is always more to any story, and I am sure there is even more to be told about the little Florida Orange Bird. But, for now, this column and my previous column have exhausted everything I could find out about the character. At least this information is now in print for future researchers as they take a casual sip of their Florida orange juice and worry about proper nutrition.