Welcome to the next post of Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your Rafiki on today’s circle of life.
This week is going to be Throwback Thursday, a new feature on this blog where posts I had previously written get a facelift and make their way over to LaughingPlace. I am an Orientation Leader at my school, so I have been busy from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. training for the big weekend, so my lovely friends at LaughingPlace suggested I start moving over my posts as opposed to leaving people empty-handed when I got busy for a week. Anyways, Orientation means that summer is coming to an end, with real-life starting back up (for students at least). That said, let’s take a look back at this summer which was huge at the Disney parks because of major refurbishments (Soarin’ around the World), new attractions (Frozen Ever After), and most of all, Shanghai Disneyland!
Long in development, the park finally opened on June 16. The lines have been huge all summer (over an hour for a turkey leg!), and everything I have seen about the park looks amazing. I know I want to save up to visit it sometime in the distant future. Included in the resort complex are two hotels and Disneytown, a shopping and entertainment area similar to Downtown Disney. A theater in Disneytown features the first-ever Mandarin version of the musical The Lion King, which is also the source material for our featured attractions of the day.
If you are reading this article, you have almost definitely seen The Lion King (if you haven’t, you have let me know how that’s even possible). The film won two Academy Awards and, more impressively, is in the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time when adjusted for inflation. Naturally, the Imagineers were going to capitalize on that success and attractions based on The Lion King showed up in the parks sooner rather than later. But what makes the whole situation interesting is that the attraction The Legend of the Lion King was actually developed simultaneously with the film, showing the faith that Disney had in the property.
The attraction opened in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom on July 8, 1994, a mere two weeks after the film opened, taking the place of Magic Journeys. The most unique part of the show was actually the “actors,” in this case known as “Humanimals.” All of the characters in the show, save Rafiki (more on him later), were performed by puppeteers, generally from underneath the stage.
I really love this photo because you can see what went into bringing the characters to life. It is amazing that they could pull off this show so well up to 30 times a day. The show functioned very similarly to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, in that it ran live performances continuously throughout the day. These shows set it apart from other continuous shows that tend to be pre-recorded, and the style of performance is not something that you see very often anymore.
But back to the puppets. In addition to the starring puppeteers, an actor portrayed Rafiki in a walk-around character outfit. (It must have been so surreal to interact with a bunch of puppets as the lone actor on stage.)
Rafiki actually started guests’ journey into the attraction, introducing Simba before the audience’s attention shifted to a video screen showing the opening of The Lion King (i.e. The Circle of Life). It was extremely important to set up the story well because of how close the attraction opened to the movie. A lot of early guests were not familiar with the story, so this show had the combined task of introducing these new characters, while also making it feel fresh for those who had seen the movie.
Overall, I really enjoyed the show, but I think that it could have flowed a little better and featured a little more time with the songs. It felt very abbreviated (which it obviously had to) and I could have used five more minutes of show. But now you have a chance to see it for yourself below, and the show really is a lot of fun. I’d take a peek, especially for fans of The Lion King.
I love Youtube because it gives us the opportunity to watch this show after its closure on February 23, 2002 to make way for Disney’s PhilharMagic. The show was starting to feel old, plus the Animal Kingdom had The Festival of the Lion King that brought in much larger crowds than the Legend of Lion King. I mean The Lion King is great, but I’m not sure if any movie needs two similar attractions in the same resort.
However, it was not the end for all of the puppets, as some of them moved to Animagique at Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris. Ironically, the name also moved to Paris, as a stage show called The Legend of the Lion King opened in Disneyland Park on June 26, 2004.
Disneyland Paris’s version could not have been more different than the one at the Magic Kingdom. To begin with, it was located in the Videopolis Theatre in Discoveryland (the park’s version of Tomorrowland). I am a little confused by the choice of putting the theater in that location, especially because most of the residents of the theater were shows that had nothing to do with the premise of the future, focusing primarily on Disney Animated Classics or Mickey. That being said, the show itself was extremely unique, combining filmmaking, The Festival of the Lion King, and the Broadway musical version into one extravaganza.
The whole attraction is framed around Timon directing a show about Simba’s life. The human cast members play the roles of the leads to allow mobility around the stage and help create more pomp with each performance. But animatronic versions of the characters from the movie do show up on the sides of the stage to help the show along, with some witty commentary. It sounds confusing but the best way to describe it is that there is a show within a show, where the humans play the characters in the show within the show and the animatronics play the “actual” characters.
In terms of the actual performance, the show really feels like a combination of the Festival of Lion King and the Broadway musical version of The Lion King. The show feels more like a musical jubilee than one consistent story, much in the same way that the Festival of the Lion King does. With regard to the musical, the costumes are very similar to the ones seen in the Broadway performance, and as far as I could tell, it used an all African-American cast, just as the musical did.
I don’t want to dive much more into what goes into the attraction because it really is a unique experience that should be seen with an open mind. I recommend checking this show out below more so than the Walt Disney World version because I feel like it has more to offer.
Unfortunately, that originality was not enough to keep it around, and the attraction closed in 2009, simply due to a lack of attendance. There were so many empty seats at every show that they could not justify keeping the show around any longer, so they replaced it with a show called Cinema Mickey. (It is now home to the Jedi Training Academy.)
And with that, our tour of the Legends of the Lion King has reached its final stop in the circle of life. But Hakuna Matata, there actually will be a new article next week that follows these three clues.
1. These attractions were both in the same land.
2. Part of one of these attractions is a direct successor to the other.
3. You can still find evidence of both of these attractions in the park.
These clues kind of relate to the previous set of clues, so if you are looking for help you can look there. I hope you enjoyed this post and be sure to let me know what you thought. I really love hearing what you guys thinking about each post and any experiences that you might have had on the attractions. You can find all of my contact information below in my bio.
And with that punny joke, have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.