April 17, 2015

Disney's Animal Kingdom Series Continues

Coming on April 22nd, look for Part Seven of the series, Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True Life Adventure. This look at the creation and evolution of Disney's fourth theme park in Florida is a very fascinating story, and I've filled the first six parts with rare concept art, photographs, advertisements, and personal trip reports. Until then, a brief introduction to whet your appetite:

For long time readers of the blog, you know I have a longstanding  love/hate relationship with Disney's Animal Kingdom. As with so many Disney attractions stateside, there's much potential, much anticipation of what is being done, and sometimes much disappointment with the results. Occasionally, concept art delivers what is promised. Case in point most recently being Cars Land at the beautifully  done, revitalized California Adventure. Unfortunately, there are many cases where the hopes and dreams for something fantastic falls flat. Looking at you, the extremely nice to look at but woefully, mostly hollow New Fantasyland at Florida's Magic Kingdom.

The image above is my favorite ad from 1998 introducing Disney's Animal Kingdom. The shadows in the photo are compelling as is the text, telling stories the Imagineers wanted to share- and also those adventures that were left by the wayside when the budgets thresholds were surpassed:

"Keep your eyes open and your wits about you. 'Cause you never know what you'll come across here. Herds of wild elephants, prowling lions, fire breathing dragons, and dinosaurs whose return from extinction hans't mellowed their bad attitudes one iota. Where on earth are you? Disney's Animal Kingdom, a whole new Walt Disney World theme park. Where an African safari pits you against poachers, a mad archeologist sends you back 65 million years on a thrill ride of mammoth proportions, and over 1,000 animals roam freely."

Wild animals? Of course. Audio-Animatronic Dinosaurs? You bet. Fire breathing dragons and imaginary creatures? Left off the list. The beautifully elaborate Beastly Kingdom never materializes. Even attractions planned for opening day never make the cut or eventually are built much more modest than originally planned.

Kali River Rapids. The proposed Tiger River Run was much larger in scale.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the image above, showing Kali River Rapids and the surrounding Asia area. The attraction originally was much larger, more elaborate  and with real tigers. See below.

Tiger River Run- compare the two.
Composite image courtesy marni1971.

Alas the original plans for Dinoland U.S.A. (found in one of the articles in the series) were equally impressive- and never utilized. 

Animal Kingdom's story is fascinating. It's chock full of dreams, competition with other area theme parks, intrigue, disillusionment from the Company suits, and the end result is constantly guided by the whims of the guests and the shortsightedness of the Disney Board who places making money as the ultimate goal regardless of the destruction done to the art of the park. 

A look at the Safari's savannah in art form.

Disney started with a goal to pull out all the stops in order to compete- and make obsolete- parks such as the nearby Busch Gardens in Tampa. Bringing in the Imagineer Joe Rohde to lead the team was a brilliant move. He was intimately involved in the now defunct Adventurer’s Club at Pleasure Island and possessed a great feel for bringing the exotic and mysterious feel to his work.  Leading the small but talented team, including eventually bringing in a significant old school genius to landscape the new park, they began to plan and dream.    

A look at the originally named Safari Island. 

The park map at opening... not much to do!

Want to keep going and take an in-depth look at this incredible place with a history of twists and turns? 

Part Seven debuts on the 22nd of this month on Earth Day.

Need to read the first Six articles before the 22nd? Start at here at Part One of my series, The Genesis, Evolution, and Revelation of Disney's Animal Kingdom. Six parts and counting. Each article shows rare concept art, photographs, and more. Including detailed trip reports. Enjoy the journey!

Part One

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

(All artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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