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"Festival of the Lion King" show at Disney's Animal Kingdom proves that recycling can be fun

"Festival of the Lion King" show at Disney's Animal Kingdom proves that recycling can be fun

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Care to guess which creatures are the most popular at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park?

The answer may surprise you. It's not those real lions, elephants and giraffes that you can see while rolling across the faux-African savanna aboard Kilimanjaro Safaris. But - rather - those all-too-human animals who sing & dance daily in Camp Minnie-Mickey at the "Festival of the Lion King" show.

Mind you, what's kind of ironic about all this is that - when The Walt Disney Company first revealed its plans for DAK back in June of 1995 - there was absolutely no mention of this theme park having a "Lion King" -themed stage show. In fact, the piece of real estate that Camp Minnie-Mickey currently occupies had originally been set aside for Beastly Kingdomme. Which was to have been this entire "land" which celebrated mythical creatures like dragons & unicorns.

Concept for Disney's Animal Kingdom's never-built Beastly Kingdomme area
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But as the cost of building Disney's Animal Kingdom ballooned from its-originally-budgeted $600 to $850 million, Beastly Kingdomme suddenly got pushed off in the Spring of 1997 to Phase II of this project. Which meant that - as DAK's opening date of April 22, 1998 loomed - WDW's brand-new theme park was going to have an attraction-free zone that stretched all the way from Discovery Island to Harambe Village.

This was unacceptable to the Imagineers. However - since they already had their hands full finishing up Animal Kingdom's opening day assortment of attractions - they then turned to WDW Entertainment Department for what was supposed to be a temporary solution to this theme park's Beastly Kingdomme problem.

Now the folks at Disney World's Entertainment weren't given a whole lot of time or money to work with. They were just told that they had to come up with something affordable to fill up this blank spot on DAK's canvas.

Lead parade float for Disneyland's Lion King Celebration
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Coincidentally, about the same time that this project got dropped in WDW's Entertainment's lap, Disneyland's "Lion King Celebration" was ending its nearly three year run at that theme park. And since the floats & puppets that Michael Curry had designed for this acclaimed street pageant were now due to go into storage to make way for Disneyland's next movie-based parade, the "Hercules Victory Tour" ... Well, WDW Entertainment requested that these elements of the "Lion King Celebration" be packed up and sent off to Central Florida ASAP.

And then - in an artful bit of recycling - those parade floats & puppets became the bones on which Disney World's Entertainment Department built one of the more popular shows to ever be performed at a Disney theme park, "Festival of the Lion King."

When you consider that this 30-minute-long theater-in-the-round show has entertained millions of WDW visitors over the past 12+ years, it's somewhat startling to learn about quickly "Legend of the Lion King" was thrown together. By that I mean: When this 1000 seat, Adirondack-themed theater first began welcoming DAK visitors back in March of 1998 during this theme park's soft opening, it didn't even have exterior walls or air conditioning.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But WDW Guests were willing to overlook this theater's rough edges. Mostly because of the energetic performances that this talented cast of 50 gave as they sang, danced and tumbled their way through Sir Elton John & Tim Rice's Academy Award-winning songs.

In fact, "Festival of the Lion King" became so popular with Animal Kingdom visitors (according to Guest Relations insiders, this stage show regularly came in first whenever people were surveyed about what their favorite experience at DAK was) the Resort's staff actually had to wait 'til the Fall of 2003 before they then got the chance to enclose & air condition this then-still-open air arena.

But the upside is ... Enclosing Camp Minnie-Mickey's theatre then allowed Disney World to increase capacity for each performance of "Festival of the Lion King." Which means that now nearly 1400 WDW Guests can be entertained at any one time as they're first divided up into Elephants, Giraffes, Lions and Warthogs and then led in cheers for their "side."

And ever since then, the Company has looked for other ways that it can plus this DAK favorite. Witness that articulated Timon head which got added to "Festival of the Lion King" back in January of 2009. This means that the walk-around version of everyone's favorite meerkat can now move his mouth & blink his eyes as Timon leads the crowd in singing "Hakuna Matata."

And given that The Walt Disney Company prides itself on being green ... Well, WDW's Entertainment Department has to take some pride in the knowledge that - by recycling some parade floats & puppets that had originally been created for Disneyland's "Lion King Celebration" street pageant - they were then able to create one of the more popular Disney theme park shows ever.

Just how popular is "Festival of the Lion King" with WDW visitors? So much so that - when The Walt Disney Company was looking for sure-fire shows to drop into Hong Kong Disneyland - they then decided to place a clone of this DAK stage show in the Adventureland section of that theme park.

The Hong Kong Disneyland version of the Festival of the Lion King show
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, the Hong Kong Disneyland version of "Festival of the Lion King" - just like its DAK predecessor - was only supposed to be a temporary attraction. According to WDI's original plans for this part of the theme park, there was supposed to be a dinosaur-themed roller coaster occupying this corner of Adventureland. Rather than some theater-in-the-round show built around an animated feature from 1994.

But given that that the Animal Kingdom's version of "Festival of the Lion King" has been wowing stateside theme park fans for more than a decade now ... I'm guess that it could be quite a while before any Hong Kong Disneyland Guests then get the chance to pull any Gs while they're trying to escape from some T-Rex.

And all of this because Disney's Animal Kingdom went overbudget during its initial construction phase and the Imagineers then needed something quick & cheap to replace Beastly Kingdomme.

Overview of Beastly Kingdomme's proposed Quest for the Unicorn maze
attraction. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Who said that recycling isn't fun?

And speaking of saving things ... If you're looking to save a few bucks on your next trip to Orlando, I know some folks who can help you when it comes to finding discounted admissions to Central Florida's theme parks.

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