The Lion King for Carnival at Disneyland Paris
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KING OF THE JUNGLE?
Last year, Disneyland Resort Paris ("DLRPâ€?) inaugurated the Carnival season as an attempt to attract guests during the month of February. The first, the Jungle Book Carnival was a rather disappointing affair, with a small cavalcade down Main Street and a series of musical performances on a giant elevated stage with a hatched roof, erected in the heart of the hub. The festivities failed to ignite significant interest to increase visitor numbers, but there were plenty of positive indicators to learn from the first attempt and translate that into improvements for the second season in 2004.
And improve they did. This time, the temperature remained mild for the time of year and the snow flurries of last winter were kept at bay, to ensure that the Lion King Carnival premiered on February 7 to significant off-season crowds.
Famed imaginer, Tony Baxter, opted for a smaller, off-centre stage (facing Discoveryland) in front of the castle at Disneyland park to prevent the view of Tom Morris' spectacular Sleeping Beauty Castle being obscured to guests as they walk down Main Street USA. The Castle Stage is home to a Winnie-the-Pooh show during the summer months, but sits idle during the cold Northern European winters, exposed to the elements. For many Disney enthusiasts, the giant hub and accompanying stage at Tokyo Disneyland is the envy of all of the Magic Kingdoms as they are able to stage complex shows in front of thousands of guests. DLRP does not have an enlarged hub, but for the first time in the park's history, the Entertainment Division have been able to create a 360 degree, "in-the-roundâ€?-style spectacle without impacting the movement of guests across the park.
This year, instead of installing an elevated stage in the hub, as park management have before for the Halloween & Christmas seasons, DLRP created a stylish interpretation of Pride Rock, the centrepiece for Disney's The Lion King. Up to five times daily, guests gathered on the sidewalks of the hub to watch the unveiling of Simba. For this show, the producers took two different concepts and blended them into a new show for DLRP. The inspiration is the opening sequence from the movie, but the other elements are poached from the stunning Festival of the Lion King show that has been wowing guests since 1998 at Disney's Animal Kingdom park. The performance unfolds with the arrival of four ambassadors (closely resembling the four musical travellers who are the narrators for the Festival show), who each take a quarter of the watching crowds to practice their animal calls, to herald the arrival of the animals in advance of the presentation of the future Lion King.
The trademark refrains of Circle of Life greet the 70-plus performers, who spill from Adventureland into the hub. The costumes are simply stunning; a rich blend of colour drawing on African elements from across the continent from lush grass skirts to tribal dresses emblazoned with paw prints. The animal puppets are breath-taking, more a stylised interpretation of the savannah creatures than literal reincarnations. The colours are earthly African, from the dark mud reds of the giant elephants to the intense blues of the rhinos. Giant erratic stitching accentuates the puppets, distancing them from their real-life inspiration. The puppeteers are enthusiastic and eccentric, engaging the audience throughout the 25-minute performance.
As the characters fanned out across the hub, spanning the entire circumference, the show continued through the myriad of songs that make up the fabric of the story, through Hakuna Matata to Can You Feel the Love Tonight? The climax of the show commences with the arrival of two tribal elders, Rafiki and a villager, carrying a small basket. Rafiki climbs to the edge of Pride Rock to present Simba to his people, as the music reaches its conclusion. However, instead of a stuffed version of the lion cub, Rafiki holds aloft a real lion cub to the gasps and cheers of the surrounding audience. He is quickly returned to his handler, as Rafiki climbs down from Pride Rock. The climax sees a short reprise of each song.
This show is virtually flawless in its production and execution. Senior Producer for the park, Katy Harris may have substantially borrowed both theme and musical arrangement from previous Disney productions, but the costuming and staging is stunning and unique. The hub is a perfect setting for a true theatre-in-the-round display. The choreography is undoubtedly the most elaborate and kinetic I have ever seen at a Disney park with the dancers' electricity feeding the audience. Personally, The Lion King has always provided the richest fodder for material at the parks with productions such as The Lion King Celebration parade at Disneyland and the Legend of the Lion King puppet show, formerly housed in Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom. This show is the greatest ever produced at DLRP in its near 12-year history and quite possibly one of the finest spectacles that has ever graced a Disney theme park, period. The Lion King Carnival has reinvigorated this slowest of months with the creation of a third season at the park, following behind Halloween and Christmas. Judging by the reaction of guests, this king will return.
As is typical of DLRP's seasonal entertainment, Simba and his friends can be found throughout the park in a host of different guises. Huge sculptures of Rafiki, Timon and juvenile Simba peer down on guests as they enter the park, under the railway station. Windows along Main Street USA reflect the season of spring with a botanical feel, interspersed with three-dimensional figures of Lion King characters. In addition, one room of the Emporium has been decked out to celebrate the movie, with stone relief carvings of the stars gracing the walls and a beautiful giraffe centrepiece, suspended above the cashier desk. Curiously, the lampposts of the street are not adorned with appropriate imagery, as they did for the Jungle Book Carnival, (bananas and jazz instruments in 2003).
In addition, the Carnival has provided the DLRP Food & Beverage division with the opportunity to re-format the Restaurant Hakuna Matata in Adventureland with new menus, featuring pasta and salads and the re-naming of the two dining wings of the building to Place Pumba (no second "aâ€? in France it seems) and Terrassee Timon.
The finale to each day sees the new Simba's FiROARworks performed. This demonstration is short in length, less than five minutes and choreographed to just one song, the Circle of Life. However, various different projections are broadcast onto the castle, often featuring animal paw prints or African patterns. Fireworks are rarely spectacular at DLRP, as the parks are restricted to the type of shells that can be used due to noise pollution, but the use of bright, warm colours is appropriate for the carnival season. It is a fitting way to conclude each day during the season.
In short, the conceptualisation of this beefed-up Carnival is nearly flawless and a welcome addition to the off-season contributions at the park to guests. I would strongly recommend that guests consider visiting the park next February, if this show returns.
The Lion King theme will be extended in the near future with the arrival of the Celebration of the Lion King show debuting on June 26, replacing the mediocre Mickey's Show Time at Videopolis. Advance buzz on this show has been electric, with cast members reporting that the show will utilise new effects never before seen at DLRP, including fountains, on stage! In addition, a new Peter Pan show for kids (entitled "Peter Pan to the Rescue!â€?) will be unfolded on April 3 on the deck of his nemesis' ship, moored at Adventure Isle.