What Does Disney’s Animal Kingdom Need Now?
The new themed land features two impeccable attractions plus some of the most breathtaking sights ever on display at a theme park.
However, Pandora recently turned four years old. Disney cannot rest on its laurels forever.
What does Animal Kingdom need to maintain its recent momentum? Well…
Let’s Talk about Animal Kingdom’s Shows
The pandemic has proven challenging for Animal Kingdom’s show-based attractions.
Disney fired many of its entertainment performers, including the beloved Tam Tam Drummers.
Bollywood Beats was barely a year old when it had to close. Similarly, the Up tie-in for the bird show remains on hiatus. You can still watch a form of the bird show, though.
Meanwhile, the Pandora Utility Suit remains offline for non-technical reasons. It’s just not something Disney has wanted to do due to crowd concerns.
Speaking of which, the most popular show at Animal Kingdom has returned.
A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King works differently than you remember. But we’ll take what we can get, right?
That’s the story for most show-based attractions at EPCOT. It’s Tough to Be a Bug! looked like it was on the way out, but it’s here to stay now.
Disney needs cheap attractions that can churn thousands of guests an hour. Since performer-based shows are too expensive right now, the bugs stay.
I expect that the Pandora Utility Suit will return soon since it requires only two cast members. Bands may not be back for a while, though.
Then, there’s Finding Nemo – The Musical, which hasn’t operated during the pandemic. It should come back soon.
Unfortunately, none of this hints at future growth plans. Disney cannot even operate a high-touch dig site at DinoLand U.S.A. at the moment.
This state of flux makes long-term planning nigh impossible, especially for shows.
One could feasibly pop up at any moment, but there aren’t any juicy rumors out there right now.
Let’s Talk about Park Access
Here’s a challenging problem that somehow comes with a simple solution.
Access to Animal Kingdom remains problematic. You can only reach this park by bus. It’s the only Walt Disney World gate with a single form of transportation.
You can take a gondola to or from EPCOT as well, making it the park with the best logistics.
Animal Kingdom sits on one side of the Disney campus, away from everything else.
Even its adjoining resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, requires a bus ride to the park. So, this park qualifies as the least convenient of the four.
However, Disney could fix this with one easy move. It could expand the Disney Skyliner to Animal Kingdom and, hopefully, Animal Kingdom Lodge.
In doing so, Animal Kingdom would finally feel connected to the rest of the Walt Disney World campus, which hasn’t been true for 20+ years.
Let’s Talk about Potential Rides
When Disney introduced Pandora, rumors suggested that a phase two would happen soon.
Park officials loved what they got from Pandora, most notably a 25 percent increase in attendance. They wanted to capitalize on that momentum.
Several blueprints exist for potential plots of land. They could function as Pandora phase two. And I think we’re all up for more Avatar-based rides!
However, Animal Kingdom needs more of a balance. The current DinoLand U.S.A. features one good attraction, DINOSAUR.
Everything else there represents a glorified carny attraction, which isn’t very Disney.
Management has taken a PR hit over this subject since opening day, yet the problem has never gone away.
Then-CEO Michael Eisner went cheap on Animal Kingdom, costing us the promise of Beastly Kingdom.
Some plans exist for repurposing of DinoLand as an Indiana Jones themed land. And that idea isn’t as crazy as it might sound.
Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland employs the same ride mechanics and design aesthetics as DINOSAUR.
Imagineers could re-theme that ride and add some more Indiana Jones attractions, once again prioritizing intellectual property.
Few people even recall the movie that provides the theoretical basis for DINOSAUR anyway. You can watch it on Disney+, but…I wouldn’t.
Of course, park officials won’t rush into an Indiana Jones themed land.
First, they’ll wait to see how Indiana Jones 5 does. It doesn’t come out for another year, either.
For the time being, the most likely new ride at Animal Kingdom would involve Pandora. Still, even that seems doubtful in the short term.
Disney remains cash-poor after the pandemic. It probably won’t even announce significant new rides until the 2022 D-23 Expo.
So, Animal Kingdom desperately needs some new rides…but probably won’t get any until 2024 at the earliest.
Let’s Talk about Cavalcades and Rivers of Light
Animal Kingdom had ended its only nighttime presentation ever before the pandemic began.
Rivers of Light experienced several unsuccessful reboots as Disney tried to find a story worthy of its visual splendor.
Eventually, everyone decided that Rivers of Light just didn’t work enough to justify the effort. Sure, it was shiny, but how many guests really understood it?
Due to the widespread nature of Animal Kingdom, parades haven’t really been a thing here.
However, when Walt Disney World reopened after the pandemic, some enterprising officials invented a brilliant new form of entertainment.
River Cavalcades provided temporary entertainment for guests. Disney would stick costumed cast members on boats and send them down the river.
For guests, we’d be walking between points of interest when we suddenly saw Donald Duck and others hosting drum shows.
Seriously, Disney sometimes puts musicians on boats and has them play classic songs that you only hear for a moment.
The entire experience careens between entertaining and surreal. Still, each time I notice a Cavalcade, I stop what I’m doing and watch.
Cavalcades represent one of Disney’s best 2020 ideas, and I hope they stay.
As for a nighttime presentation, the park has added that entire theater. It’d be a shame not to use it.
I fully expect Animal Kingdom to introduce a new nighttime show at some point. It just won’t be soon.
After all, the same constraint remains in place. Disney cannot add anything loud enough to disrupt the animals.
Until then, the real nighttime entertainment at Animal Kingdom will continue to be Pandora.