The Problem With the Possible New ‘Encanto’-Themed Attraction at Disneyland

It was recently announced that Tarzan’s Treehouse in Disneyland, the beloved walkthrough attraction which began its life as the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, will be refurbished and re-themed. The news comes as a blow to many fans of Tarzan, which has been historically under-represented in both parks and Disney merchandise outside of the window immediately following the film’s release.

Tarzan‘s Treehouse History

The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, from the Original 1960 film.

 As it stands, Tarzan’s Treehouse resides appropriately in Adventureland, allowing guests to climb among set pieces from the beloved 1999 animated classic Tarzan. Guests can move about exploring the home of the titular hero among the twisted jungle vines and branches. While exploring, guests encounter statues depicting vignettes from the film’s narrative, highlighting beloved moments.

The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse in Disneyland under construction, with steel branches displayed.

The attraction was originally opened in 1962, based on Walt Disney’s 1960 live-action film The Swiss Family Robinson, adapted from an 1812 novel of the same name. The film is about a shipwrecked family surviving together in a tropical paradise, a narrative which is similar to the origin story of Tarzan’s birth parents. And when Walt Disney World opened in 1971, a twin treehouse stood proudly in Adventureland as an opening day attraction. The Disneyland tree was constructed of concrete and steel, with large branches needing to be built to support the intricate structure, sculpted to look like a realistic sturdy tree. Imagineers referred to the tree’s species as “Disneyodendron semperflorens grandis” (the large ever blooming Disney tree), while it’s sister tree in Disney World was known as “Disneyodendron eximus” (the out-of-the-ordinary Disney Tree). Two more iterations of the classic Swiss Family Treehouse opened; one in Disneyland Paris in 1992, and the other in Tokyo Disneyland in 1993. Tarzan‘s Treehouse in Disneyland is still the only version that has been re-themed.

The 1962 opening day for the Swiss Family Treehouse attraction in Disneyland.

Fan Speculation Begins

With the lack of Disney’s use of Tarzan in its toys, theme parks, and shows (besides the underrated short-running Broadway adaption from Disney Theatrical Productions) the Tarzan story line of the attraction now appears outdated. While the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse attractions in other Disney parks have remained timeless. The attraction has been closed since September 2021, and demolition on the current structure began on Monday April 18th. And while not much is known about the new theme and backstory of the attraction, it was confirmed the treehouse structure itself will remained in tact. This of course lead to immediate speculation from fans as to what it could be. The most popular emerging fan theory has by far been an Encanto themed threehouse based attraction.

Tarzan’s Treehouse in Disneyland, refurbished to match the construction of Tarzan’s family home in the 1999 animated film.

An Encanto theme makes logical sense, following the film’s critical and commercial success as well as significant and immediate cultural impact. However, while the film’s magical casita captured the imaginations of audiences just as the film’s heroine Mirabel captured their hearts, there is a problem with an Encanto refurbishment. A walk through version of El Casa De Madrigal would certainly be a magical experience. It would be an awesome experience to walk past the individual glowing doors of each family member or to sneak behind the walls to find the secret passages of Bruno. But this would not be in keeping with the treehouse theme that Disney is currently saying would remain intact. Instead providing an experience like a cross between an interactive maze and a dark ride. No, the authentic magical treehouse experience can instead be found behind the door of the youngest Madrigal, Antonio.

Tarzan’s Treehouse in Adventureland at night, as viewed from below.

Antonio’s Treehouse

The sequence of Antonio receiving his gift, and opening up his door to reveal a large jungle paradise in his room, is truly awe-inspiring. The animation, the climatic music building every moment, the sequence of events taking the young Antonio and the audience with him around the room with fluid movements- all work together flawlessly. It is easy to imagine any child wanting to ride on the back of the jaguar, climb to the different canopies of the tree, slide down the waterfall, or swing on the hammock. But the idea of an attraction themed around Antonio’s room also presents a problem.

The Problem With an Encanto Treehouse

Antonio’s treehouse at the center of his room in 2021’s Encanto.

The basic physical construction of Antonio’s jungle playground is very similar to that of the Swiss Family Treehouse, with various levels of interaction. But rather than having an actual treehouse, every inch of Antonio’s room is a natural environment. Antonio jumps with the jaguar on moss-covered rocks and roots of the tree, he does not climb across rickety man-made rope bridges and stairs. Antonio slides down a natural slide and lands in a clear pool of water, he does not collect drinking water in an intricately built bamboo water wheel. Antonio bounces in hammocks hanging from jungle branches, he does not lay in a wood frame bed covered with delicate linens from overseas. While The Swiss Family Robinson and Lord John Clayton and Lady Alice Clayton and their infant son (born John Clayton II, the Viscount Greystroke) are shipwrecked and attempt to bring civility to the chaos of the jungle- Antonio’s experience is precisely the opposite.

The official Encanto Antonio’s Treehouse play set.

The Encanto itself is a safe haven in the wild jungles of Columbia, the casita of the family is protected by the light of the miracle. Antonio’s room is chaos rising in the midst of the safety of his family home. A wild chaos that is happily embraced as a gift. Thematically this is very different from the existing attractions. But on a more literal level- it raises the question of what exactly an Encanto treehouse could do to look like Antonio’s treehouse and not simply a large tree. Besides the singular rope bridge and hanging hammocks, what could a tree in the middle of Adventureland do to look like Antonio’s room?

If this is indeed the direction Imagineers intend, it will likely involve a lot of creative design incorporating elements of the casita. Time will tell what this new treehouse will look like.

About Maggie Koch

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