The Mouse Knows Best Podcast

Friday, December 1, 2017

A History of the Orange Bird

My favorite Disney character is the Orange Bird, and I recently took a look into his history to share with you today.  
Although the Orange Bird didn’t make his appearance at Walt Disney World until 1971, it’s believed that his history can be traced back to 1941.  It was during that year that the Walt Disney Company and Florida’s Natural Growers entered a partnership that would allow the cooperation to use the character Donald Duck on their orange juice cartons.  Even though Donald hasn’t been featured on the cartons as often in recent years, the agreement still stands and is one of the longest marketing partnerships in American history.
Jump forward to 1969 when construction was underway at the Magic Kingdom in Florida and The Walt Disney Company was looking to grow its partnership with the Florida Citrus Commission, which was formed from Florida’s Natural Growers.  The long-running partners struck a $3 million dollar deal for the Florida Citrus Commission to become the sponsor of the Sunshine Pavilion, which was home to the Sunshine Tree Terrace as well as the Tropical Serenade Show (which later would become known as the Enchanted Tiki Room).
A promo shot taken while Magic Kingdom was still under construction.
As a way to thank the Florida Citrus Commission for their massive investment in the Magic Kingdom, The Walt Disney Company decided to create a new character to promote both entities.  The concept for the character was fairly simple: an orange bird with head shaped like the citrus fruit he was named after.  The Orange Bird’s defining characteristic was that he was not able to speak, squeak, or make any sound.  He instead communicated through orange-tinted thought bubbles.
Before the opening of the Magic Kingdom, the Orange Bird made appearances on billboards, newspapers, and magazines to promote Florida orange juice.  He also served as a spokesbird for the upcoming Walt Disney World Resort.
In 1971, the Orange Bird moved to his home with the opening of the Sunshine Pavilion at the Magic Kingdom.  His presence was small at first, limited to a simple statue behind the counter at the Sunshine Tree Terrace and a walk around character, but the Orange Bird was a huge hit with the Florida locals who had been seeing the bird on advertisements for months.
The Orange Bird also had a popular book and record set that included songs written by the Sherman Brothers that were performed by former Miss America contestant Anita Bryant.  Over the following decade, the Orange Bird appeared in several educational shorts and commercials that helped familiarize people with his adorable orange self.
In 1977, Anita Bryant became an outspoken opponent of anti-discrimination legislation proposed in Miami that caused a public relations firestorm.  Since Bryant’s opinions were so controversial, many people decided to boycott Florida orange juice since Bryant was the spokesperson.  Due to all the controversy, the Florida Citrus Commission and Bryant parted ways, leaving the Orange Bird without his “voice.”
Although the Orange Bird was never directly involved in the controversy, the loss of Bryant meant the Orange Bird’s commercials were taken off the air and the records were phased out at the Walt Disney World Resort.  Despite the setbacks, the Florida Citrus Commission decided to renew its contract with the Walt Disney Company in 1981 for five more years.
Sadly for the Orange Bird, when the contact came up for renewal in 1986, the Florida Citrus Commission chose not to renew the contract for reasons that are still not known.  The end of the sponsorship caused the Orange Bird to be evicted from the Magic Kingdom as a walk around character.  During a refurbishment in the mid-90s the Orange Bird statue at the Sunshine Tree Terrace vanished.  As citrus stands became more sparse over the years, many forgot about the little Orange Bird.
But something interesting happened in 2004 halfway around the world from the Orange Bird’s home state.  The Orange Bird made his international debut at Tokyo Disneyland’s Orange Day celebration.  Although it's safe to say most of the guest didn’t know of his origin, the Orange Bird became a smash hit with the locals.  This victory for the Orange Bird put him on the path to a great comeback.
Mouse Steps
Due to his Tokyo success, The Walt Disney Company decided to test the waters with limited edition Orange Bird merchandise in 2009.  The response to the merchandise was so huge that most of it sold out as soon as it hit the self.  It was clear the Florida park was ready for it’s original mascot to return home.  Over the next few years, Orange Bird merchandise began to slowly make its way back onto the shelf much to the delight of nostalgic Disney fans (myself included).
The day I finally got the Orange Bird Park Starz Vinylmation.
The Orange Bird “officially” came home in 2012 when the Orange Bird statue was returned to the Sunshine Tree Terrace.  He also received a bit of a promotion by also being featured on the signage for the Sunshine Tree Terrace and receiving his own special drinking cup.  Today, there are numerous merchandise items that feature the Orange Bird including pins, t-shirts, and kitchenware...most of which are in my apartment.
The Orange Bird is all over my apartment.

Robyn Fleenor is a contributing writer for The Mouse Knows Best Podcast. She is an avid Disney fanatic and would rather be at Walt Disney World eating glazed almonds than anything else.  When she isn't working to pay for her next Disney vacation, she likes to binge watch TV shows and fall in love with fictional characters. She can be found tweeting at @rahrah6263. 

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