‘Enchanted Tiki Room:’ Trade Paperback Review

In the summer of 1963, Disneyland debuted its newest attraction, the Enchanted Tiki Room. An ambitious show that pioneered animatronics, the Enchanted Tiki Room featured macaws, plants, and statues singing various songs, such as the endearing “The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.” The attraction was in response to the active tiki culture that flourished in the post-war years; however, tiki culture would eventually decline due to south seas escapism being effectively destroyed by America’s intervention into Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. While tiki culture would remain in hibernation during this period, the Enchanted Tiki Room saw great success, with the attraction later being duplicated in Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.

With Disney’s acquisition of Marvel in 2009, Disney’s vast library of characters and properties would either see brand new incarnations in comic book format, or, as in the case of Star Wars, be transferred from another publisher over to Marvel. Regarding the Enchanted Tiki Room, though an iconic Disney property, the question must have been asked, “How does one turn a theme park attraction into a comic book?” A similar version of this question was asked fourteen years ago, and now there are five Pirates of the Caribbean films, so if any company can take a theme park attraction and place a narrative in a different medium, it’s Disney. The end result, not just for Enchanted Tiki Room, but also for the Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, and others, is a series of comics based on theme park attractions under the Disney Kingdoms label.

Enchanted Tiki Room spanned five-issues and was written by John Adams (The Joyners) with Horacio Domingues (Transformers, Dr. Who) on art duties. The miniseries ran from late 2016 to early 2017 and was recently collected in trade paperback form. Taking the Robert Altman approach to storytelling, Enchanted Tiki Room follows the narratives of six groups of character, whose storylines cross and converge. Agnes is an aged starlet who lacks a husband and clings to her glory years; her only companion is her dog Alfred. The Randy family comes from extreme wealth but lacks family connections with each other, as the children are spoiled and the parents lack empathy, assuming their wealth fulfills their needs. Wally is a younger man who has recently broken up with his girlfriend. Saoirse is a mysterious young lady that slinks about the island, looking to take a talking macaw back home to her dad to win his approval. Chip is an aspiring entertainer that works at Enchanted Tiki Room looking for his big break. And finally, there are the four macaws that are from the real-life Enchanted Tiki Room that appear as themselves - Fritz, José, Pierre, and Michael - who all talk in exaggerated German, Spanish, French, and British accents, respectively. An unseen narrator, Tangaroa (a talking tree), provides commentary on the characters but otherwise does not interact with the narrative.

The overall story is that all of the characters converge on the island and the Enchanted Tiki Room looking to change their lives. The macaws, who perform at the Tiki Room, are embroiled in turmoil with each other, resulting with their group disbanding. Chip is too ambitious with achieving stardom, at the determent to others, and seeks to create his own version of the Enchanted Tiki Room to compete with the real deal. He invests the money of the Randy family, leaving them penniless. Michael is bird-napped by Saoirse, with a chase sequence ensuing as the volcano on the island begins to erupt.

The multiple-character approach in the Enchanted Tiki Room is ambitious, but unfortunately for the majority of the characters, falls flat. The characters are fairly one-dimensional, bordering on being caricaturistic. For example, dialogue from the Randy family includes, “Lucky for you, we are a family of immense and grotesquely disproportionate wealth!,” “She’s not used to people who have to earn a living, she cries every time she sees someone working for money,” and “We’ll do whatever it takes to make you happy, no matter the financial cost, and as long as it fits with our schedules.” This heavy handed approach to depicting the Randys perhaps aims to be comically exaggerating, but instead comes off as shallow. Similar stilted dialogue and thoughts can be found with Wally and Chip, as well. Each character has their own issues to overcome, and in a true Disney ending, they do all live happily ever after, yet at the climax of the book, the majority of the characters yield their story resolutions to Saoirse who is the only one to get an overt conclusion. Their adventures on the island are depicted, and it is hinted at that each character learns their respective lessons, but it isn’t succinctly conveyed.

The exception to this is Agnes’ story arc, which is surprisingly humble, refreshing, and well executed. Agnes, like the other characters, begins one-dimensionally, as an aged actress long past her prime, unable to keep a husband. When her dog Alfred gains the ability to talk due to the magic of the island, he flees from her clinging nature. Talking to a flock of birds, they convince Alfred that since he can now communicate, he should try talking to Agnes to work out their issues. Alfred agrees and seeks out Agnes, only to catch her in the act of kissing Wally. Agnes later proposes to Wally who flees in abject terror. Despite this setback, Alfred still talks with Agnes. They decide to give their human-doggy relationship another try (Agnes tries to teach Alfred to play catch.) which really shows both characters’ evolution from being one-dimensional and cartoonish to actually learning their lesson and growing. It is a pity that the other characters in Enchanted Tiki Room do not receive the same treatment as Agnes and Alfred.

While the story could use a bit more magic and polish, the artwork in Enchanted Tiki Room is excellent. The pages are vibrant with color, really conveying the tropical and exotic nature of the island; there are (singing) flowers, detailed and ornate tiki statues, lush foliage, sparkling bodies of blue water, and scenic sunsets. The lines are bold and the characters’ eyes full of expression (when in close up) which give the feeling as if one is watching cartoons from the old days of Disney Afternoon. For tiki aficionados, the trade paperback offers up its own take of tiki culture and delivers in this department, as well. Some of the pages evoke the feeling of listening to exotica as characters drink tropical drinks from mugs, interact with statues and gods, and take advantage of the amenities the island has to offer. The escapism of tiki culture is definitely represented. In this regard, Enchanted Tiki Room is quite successful. The characters may not be the most robust, but the feelings, kitsch, and nostalgia from the real-life attraction are transplanted into the comic book medium quite well, creating an enjoyable read.

Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.

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