Welcome to Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole, and I’ll be your lightbearer on today’s trip through the Animal Kingdom.
For years, Disney’s Animal Kingdom functioned much like a zoo, rarely staying open after dark because animals tend to fall asleep by then, meaning about half of the park would have to be closed. However, Disney was always thinking about keeping the park open later, with some Extra Magic Hours being at night to test how crowds would enjoy experience. Then, Disney announced that they would be opening Pandora – The World of Avatar, an area that would feature bioluminescence to help the land take on a whole new life once it was dark. With the park expanding its hours, Animal Kingdom was finally ready to get a nighttime spectacular, meaning every park in the continental US would have a special experience for guests at night.
As early as the mid 2000s, Disney was flirting with the idea of putting in a nighttime parade at Animal Kingdom, but ultimately it feel through because they would have had to displace a ton of trees for the floats to be able to navigate the park. For a park focused on conservation, that probably wasn’t the smartest idea, so Disney wisely decided to put the parade idea on the backburner.
With fireworks also out of the question because of their scaring the animals, Disney wasn’t sure how to approach the nighttime spectacular. But then World of Color was really successful at California Adventure, so it looked like they had found their answer. So with Avatar coming, Disney began work on transforming the Discovery River banks to create seating for Rivers of Light.
Disney officially announced the show in 2013, with construction on the theater beginning in 2014. Now, what took so long, I don’t know, but it seemed like the show was finally going to open on Earth Day in 2016. Cast member previews had begun, and it looked like everything was going swimmingly. But then Disney inexplicably announced that the show was not ready yet and needed more work done. Things began to look worse when The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic took over the river during summer 2016.
Finally, 10 months after it was scheduled to debut, Rivers of Light opened on February 17, 2017. It was hard to believe at first because the show had languished around for so long, and people were psyched to finally get the chance to experience what seemed like a surefire hit.
But then people watched the show and thought it was just “eh.” Personally, I never got the chance to see the show in person, though I tried really hard both of my last couple of times there (even waiting through a thunderstorm at Animal Kingdom only for it to be cancelled). But after watching it online, I can’t say that I feel like I was missing out on much.
I thought the whole show was very visually pleasing, with all of the water floats and boats looking just plain awesome. They helped bring a lot of life and energy to the show, something that it definitely needed.
They also used water screens really effectively to the point where you barely noticed they were there, unlike in a lot of other shows where they tend to become kind of an eyesore.
My favorite part though, was the song “We Are One” that plays throughout the entire show. Paired with some powerful images, I felt really empowered after the show ended to go and make a difference in conservation, so clearly the song succeeded in its goal.
However, the biggest issue that I had with the show was that it was boring. I feel like nothing actually happened throughout the show, and it almost put me to sleep because it was so calming. They didn’t really use much narration and the animals weren’t even front and center for most of the first half of the show.
I also don’t know if I missed something, but there was no semblance of a story anywhere in the show. For a company where story is the key to everything, it felt kind of bizarre that there wasn’t anything tying together what I was watching. It left everything feeling kind of disjointed and thrown together, which is not what I look for in shows. I need to be drawn in, but if it feels like the whole show is pointless, it becomes pretty difficult to get me to enjoy it.
Overall, I can understand why people felt so let down by Rivers of Light and said that it was bad. While I certainly wouldn’t call it bad, I do think that it needed a jolt of life. The whole story needed to match with the wonderful visuals and create something to make Animal Kingdom a place to be at night.
Luckily, Disney has finally done something about it by giving the show a major facelift and calling the updated version, Rivers of Light: We Are One. Just by the fact that the title now features my favorite part of the original show has me excited to go and check it out next time I’m at the World. This new show, which opened May 24 (with the original closing the night before), is set to feature footage from DisneyNature films and The Lion King. Normally, I’m a big proponent of leaving the IP out of attractions if it isn’t needed, but in this case, I think it will help the show out a lot by creating a better narrative.
We’ll have to see if the original Rivers of Light stays extinct forever (my guess is no), but for now, I’m glad to have the change of pace. So with that, let’s take a look at what’s coming next week.
- These attractions featured a king.
- These attractions both had a giant animatronic.
- These attractions both had elements of fire.
Thanks for reading and 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.