It’s not that the Tarzan makeover of the treehouse is bad, exactly, though I think it’s trying to cash in on a movie that has considerably less lasting appeal than they were hoping for at the time. It’s more that there isn’t as much point, and I’m not happy about losing long-standing nostalgia for cashing in on newer properties. I won’t deny that a refurbishment was a good idea, come to that; all attractions could use a good refurbishment every now and again. Possibly the treehouse was due. But the last time I went to a Disney park, I sent my partner up the treehouse with my friend’s daughter while she and I stayed on the ground and gossiped, and if the treehouse were still that of the Swiss Family, I would’ve gone up, probably.
The original, in Disneyland, opened seven years after the park did, in 1962. This was also two years after the premiere of Swiss Family Robinson (which I haven’t gotten to yet and will at some point), a movie based on an 1812 novel about a Swiss family shipwrecked in the East Indies. The treehouse is an important part of the film, and the version at the parks (the treehouse is still themed to Swiss Family Robinson in Florida, Tokyo, and Paris) is based on the version in the film. Primarily designed by Bill Martin, it also featured work from Wolfgang Reitherman, who designed the version that appeared in the movie.
Confused yet? Okay. There’s the book, and then there was the movie—not the first movie based on the book, but certainly the best known. And then, two years later, there was a giant tree, designated species Disneyodendron semperflorens grandis, which translates roughly to “large, everblooming Disney tree.” Which, sure, yes. It is one of the only attractions that is not handicapped accessible; arguably, it cannot be. You go up and down a total of 116 steps, looking at the treehouse so famously built by the family. You see the bedrooms, the kitchen, and so forth, and all the odds and ends the father built to provide them with “all the comforts of home.”
I genuinely believe the original version of the attraction is superior. In part, this is because it makes more sense. Tarzan’s parents have a treehouse in the Disney version that I strongly suspect to be influenced by Swiss Family Robinson, true, but how much time do we spend there? And gorillas don’t live in trees and certainly not treehouses. Presumably Tarzan and Jane could have a treehouse together after the events of the movie, but it’s not how you picture the Disney Tarzan, is it?
Is more of it nostalgia? You bet. I’ll own that. I remember being a child and climbing all those stairs, peering in at the parents’ bedroom, thinking about living in that house. (That was before my knees went out.) Sure, you got an introduction to the whole thing in the movie, but there was also something appealing about standing there and looking at it all. It made it closer. Sure, that’s the point of the thing—to sell the movie. Disneyland has always been about selling other Disney products, and I know that. Still.
In either guise, the treehouse is one of the quieter moments at Disneyland. Yes, you get kids running up and down the stairs, I admit—as someone who was once one of those children. But for one thing, I seem to remember that it always felt cooler in Adventureland than elsewhere in the park. (Possibly because you were between the Jungle Cruise and the Rivers of America.) And you get up to the top, and there’s quite a view. It’s never enormously crowded, and you can see all the other tall things in the park. My family had a tradition of a handful of what I think of as “downtime” stops in the park, and this one of them. This, the Peoplemover, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln—stuff that wasn’t terribly energetic. This is the only one that wasn’t really just somewhere to sit down.
For legal reasons, the tree is technically a building. Its foundations are four stories deep. By leaving it themed to Swiss Family Robinson, they were also leaving it rooted in Disney’s past. Which is funny, for an attraction right next to the Indiana Jones adventure, I suppose, but then most of that area of the park is made of Attractions They Wouldn’t Dare Remove—after all, it’s also right next door to Pirates of the Caribbean and a short walk from the Haunted Mansion. This corner of the park is Disney’s past, which I suppose is another reason the rebranding bothered me.
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