The new version of Disneyland's Swiss Family Treehouse just opened. However, rather than the Swiss Family Robinson, the Treehouse has links to Disney's Society of Explorers and Adventurers, which is mentioned elsewhere in the parks. Just what is this Society, and what intriguing connections do they have to Disney rides?
The newly reopened Treehouse has no actual mentions of the Swiss Family Robinson. Instead, it's just a nameless family of adventurers using this island treehouse as a home. A key bit is in the daughter's room, showing how she loves to look at the stars and exchanges letters with the Society of Explorers and Adventurers with hopes of becoming a SEA member.
This may have some folks scratching their heads to wonder just what SEA is and why does it get so many mentions on Disney park attractions?
The fictional history of SEA
The seeds for the SEA organization were laid out when Disney created Pleasure Island in 1989. It was supposed to have been the storage facility for explorer Meriwether Pleasure and later converted into clubs. From there, Disney has been adding more notable names to various attractions around the world.
The SEA supposedly dates back to the 16th century, intended to get the most daring explorers and adventurers to share their wealth and knowledge. It's maintained itself over the years with international members and always emphasizes it's as much about science and education as about finding treasure and fame.
It's interesting as there are connections to everything from the Jungle Cruise to Hong Kong's rides and Disney crafting a fun fictional history for them.
Who's who in the SEA
The SEA does have some notable members linked to equally famous Disney rides and often pays tribute to some Disney Imagineers.
Harrison Hightower III: When Disney moved the Tower of Terror to Tokyo Disneyland, they discovered that The Twilight Zone wasn't a big deal there. So they crafted a brand new storyline as guests explore the manor of Harrison Hightower III, an explorer who mysteriously vanished in a ghostly encounter. He shows up in portraits, and as the ride goes on, you see his spirit flashing, making this an intriguing variation of the classic ride.
Lord Henry Mystic: The star of the famed Mystic Manor In Hong Kong Disneyland, this eccentric explorer pops up at the start of the ride to detail how he discovered the Balinese Music Box. His monkey assistant, Albert, accidentally opens it, causing the objects of the Manor to come to life. It's a terrific attraction to make Mystic among the biggest names in the SEA.
Barnabas T. Bullion and Jason Chandler: The backstory for Big Thunder Mountain is that a mining company set up shop in the titular mountain, which was owned by a Native American tribe. This angered the spirits who caused it to be cursed and the reason the mine trains are so wild. Bullion tried to get Jason Chandler to aid him, but that just made things worse.
The recent Behind the Attraction episode on Big Thunder noted how the portrait of Bullion bears more than a slight resemblance to legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter, who helped create Big Thunder Mountain. Baxter brushes it off, but it's obvious this was a tribute to him.
Dr. Albert Falls: It's one of the oldest jokes on the Jungle Cruise as the guide takes guests past Schweitzer Falls and how it's named after "the world famous Dr. Albert…Falls." So, of course, Albert Falls is cited as the man who created the Jungle Navigation Company. The Skipper Canteen is supposed to be where he hosted SEA parties. It's stated he was eventually lost at sea, and his daughter Alberta took his spot heading up the company.
Mary Oceaneer: Anyone who's been on a Disney Cruise ship will know the portraits of this bold and beautiful skipper and scientist. The Oceaneer Labs children's centers are modeled after the labs she supposedly used. Also, Oceaneer was supposed to be the skipper for Miss Lilly, the ship that ended up on the top of the mountain at Typhoon Lagoon, to make another unique connection to Disney parks.
Camellia Falco: The first woman inducted into the SEA, Falco was a pioneer of flight who made early trips via air machines. Dying in 1875, her ghost is the focus of DisneySea's Soaring: Fantastic Flight, guiding guests on a magical journey via a special flying craft for a fun spin on the Disney classic.
Garrett Read: A rare Halloween-themed overlay for the Hong Kong version of the Jungle Cruise, Curse of the Emerald Trinity centered around Read, a disgraced member of the SEA kicked out for thievery. He hijacked a boat to take Cruise guests through a dark jungle filled with zombies and other threats to try and grab an artifact that could grant him immortality. He ended up paying for it and while the overlay hasn't been used since, it was a fun twist on the ride.
Merriweather Adam Pleasure: A fantastic sea captain and explorer, Pleasure was a party-loving man who collected so many items he needed an entire island of warehouses for them. After she vanished at sea in the 1940s, Pleasure's children drove the business into the ground until Disney recreated it as the popular nighttime destination Pleasure Island.
Jock Lindsey: Remember the classic opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones escapes by plane? This is meant to be the same Jock, the sardonic pilot who ferried some SEA members on adventures before setting up his own bar at Disney Springs.
Indiana Jones: Last but not least, yes, the most famous archaeologist of all time has connections to SEA. While not a full member (even they have standards when it comes to Indy's wild adventures), Henry Jones Jr has worked with SEA a few times on some of his adventures. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye has Indy using Jungle Navigation resources for his adventure, and it's a great link to the group.
Why the SEA is so fun
At a time when Disney is seemingly obsessed with IP in attractions, using an original group like this is unique. Created for TokyoSea in 2001, it's spread around with Disney adding in various smaller members with portraits and more. The websites delve into it more, and the new Treehouse is another good link to it.
While it's not as famous as part of Disney lore, the SEA is a great touch to the parks, a throwback to the old-school storytelling of Imagineering and one hopes Disney builds on this more in the future to show how original stories can still work for the parks.