• Disney is right: Animal Kingdom deserves more love

Disney is right: Animal Kingdom deserves more love

Luiz Alberto H.

Created: Nov 27, 2023

Last Updated: Mar 19, 2024

Disney is right: Animal Kingdom deserves more love

Putting the King in Kingdom

Close your eyes and let's travel back in time. In fact, let's go back all the way to 1998. That's the year when Bill Clinton was involved in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Brazil lost the World Cup Final to France and Animal Kingdom finally opened its doors.

Sounds like ages ago, right? Disney finally had a new theme park ready to welcome guests from all over the world in what was considered a major event at the time. It still is, by the way. A new theme park means a new world of surprises and wonders that can bring joy to kids and adults alike.

Animal Kingdom was a huge success when it launched on April 22, 1998. There were a bunch of cool new shows like Festival of the Lion King and the original ride that later on became Dinosaur was also considered a big hit. It's Tough to be a Bug! debuted inside the majestic Tree of Life, which quickly became Animal Kingdom's landmark, compared to Spaceship Earth in Epcot and Cinderella's Castle in Magic Kingdom.

Oh, the park also had something cool known as animals, which brought joy to guests that just wanted to see giraffes, pet zebras or go on a cool tour aboard the Kilimanjaro Safaris, which is still an Animal Kingdom classic up to this day. Previously, if guests wanted to interact with animals they had to drive all the way to Tampa and visit Busch Gardens, but now they could have fun and spot all kinds of different species inside Walt Disney World!

ANIMAL KINGDOM 2.png

Animal Kingdom cost Disney around $800 million dollars in 1998. Nowadays, Galaxy's Edge at Hollywood Studios cost them around $1 billion dollars, while Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind alone took around $500 million from Mickey's bank vault. Of course that we have to adjust prices for inflation, but it's all there just to show you that theme parks are really expensive.

The investment, however, was worth it. Guests loved the chance to visit a brand new theme park. Future updates and brand new rides could only make it better, right?

Updates throughout the years

2002

From our trip back in time in 1998, we fast forward a little bit to 2002. It's now easy to notice that Animal Kingdom took a while to receive it's first few updates. Meanwhile, Disney MGM-Studios - now known as Hollywood Studios - introduced the awesome Fantasmic show on October 1998 and the Rock N' Roller Coaster in 1999. It was also in 1999 that Test Track took cars to a number of testing procedures in Epcot.

Dinoland USA received new attractions in 2002, welcoming both TriceratopSpin and Primeval Whirl. None of them were considered game changers capable of turning Animal Kingdom into Disney's best park, but they were fun additions nonetheless.

The first one is a typical kid's ride that is pretty fun for younglings, while the second addition was a mini-coaster with sharp turns that could give your back a tough time. Some guests complained about Primeval Whirl lacking excitement, but I honestly enjoyed it. It was good for a few laughs every time it unexpectedly turned to the sides so fast that it felt like you were about to be thrown out of the vehicle. 

TriceratopSpin is still with us, but Primeval Whirl closed its doors in 2020. A minute of silence, please.

2006

Four years later, we finally witness what is considered Animal Kingdom's first ever big update: the introduction of Expedition Everest. Expedition Everest alone reportedly cost Disney $100 million dollars and, for almost ten years, it held the record for the most expensive roller coaster in the world. 

Thankfully, all that money was put to good use. Expedition Everest was an injection of new blood and adrenaline in Animal Kingdom - the actual first thrill ride in the entire park, and a roller coaster, which is the kind of ride that can attract a whole new audience. It also helps that Expedition Everest is really fun, from the well made queue all the way to a backwards car section after you come face to face with the yeti.

Many consider this as Animal Kingdom's best ride, and it's easy to see why. It's fun, it's thrilling, it's very polished and queue times nowadays aren't even that huge, if you consider going there on a regular day. This is an imposing roller coaster, with steel tracks built all around a giant artificial mountain that rivals the Tree of Life, the main landmark in Animal Kingdom.

2017

For a good while, Animal Kingdom was almost forgotten. 

There were a few updates here and there, with the introduction of shows like Finding Nemo: The Big Blue... and Beyond! in 2007. Other than that? Not much. A few limited live shows, meet & greet with new characters and that was it. Guests started moving to Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot, while Animal Kingdom was left out of the party. 

It took Disney ten years to open a brand new area in Animal Kingdom, in what is considered the park's biggest ever update. World of Pandora launched on May 27, 2017, and brought James Cameron's epic universe to life. Now guests could come face to face with huge Mechs, weird alien plants and tall blue guys known as the Na'vi.

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As expected, World of Pandora was a huge success. During the first few weeks, you needed to enter a special queue just to make it inside that brand new area. I was there during the opening week and faced a seven hour queue just to experience Avatar: Flight of Passage, all that during a beautiful sunny day in Florida at the end of May. I am glad to announce that none of my body parts melted. 

World of Pandora brought not only new vistas, restaurants and options for pictures and meet and greets, but also two brand new attractions: Na'vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage. The first one is a traditional boat ride with good use of animatronics and colorful scenery, but not much more than that. 

Avatar Flight of Passage is the real deal, and probably the best ride in Animal Kingdom. This is one amazing motion simulator with high quality textures and colorful CG graphics that really pop up on the screen in front of you.

Nowadays, people go to Animal Kingdom for basically two things: interact with animals and check out World of Pandora. Avatar Flight of Passage is still by far the busiest ride in the whole park, with queue times easily reaching the 120 min during peak hours. Na'vi River Journey is definitely a tier below Flight of Passage when it comes to fun-factor, but it also manages to have huge waiting times, ranging from 40 min all the way to 60 min or more. This just means that people want more of Pandora and the attractions are mostly enjoyable by everyone.

2023

Hey, we are back to our own time period! 

So, what has changed in Animal Kingdom since 2017? Not much, honestly. Expedition Everest is still amazing, Avatar Flight of Passage is still one of the best rides in Walt Disney World and Kilimanjaro Safaris still delights guests with all the animal species you can find.

What about new rides, though? Hollywood Studios got a massive overhaul with Toy Story Land and then Galaxy's Edge in 2019. Epcot received one of the best indoor roller coasters of all time in 2022 with Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Magic Kingdom was blessed with Tron Lightcycle Run this year. This means that Animal Kingdom probably got something pretty cool in the last few years too, right?

...right?

Well, not really. There hasn't been a major new attraction in Animal Kingdom since 2017. Disney knows that they need to up their game if they want Animal Kingdom to compete with their other theme parks, which got so many new rides and shows in the past decade. More than that, every other Disney theme park has some kind of special perk that seems to invite guests to celebrate in a way that is still lacking in Animal Kingdom.

  • You have Hollywood Studios, which quickly became one of the best theme parks in the world with the introduction of Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash and Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, all of that in the last five years. If that's not enough, you can still go to Rock N' Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror and watch Fantasmic at night. Suffice to say, Toy Story Land and Galaxy's Edge were huge successes. 
  • Epcot has Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, the recent addition of Journey of Water and the World Showcase. The World Showcase alone is enough to attract a bunch of guests, with the huge variety of options for dining, shopping and even rides like Frozen Ever After and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, which opened in 2021.
  • You also have Magic Kingdom, which is... the Magic Kingdom. This is one of those rare theme parks that can live by name alone but, even then, it got a new ride with Tron Lightcycle Run. There are also always a lot of new live shows and events happening there, which are perfect for guests of all ages.

Animal Kingdom needs more, and Disney knows that. Na'vis alone can't carry an entire theme park on their backs, and Disney is more than aware. Animal Kingdom is probably the least visited park in all Walt Disney World, and might also explain why Disney Genie+ is always cheaper there when compared to every other park. There just aren't many rides to attract thrill seekers or people that just want to experience something new.

Well, Animal Kingdom fans, don't despair. If Hollywood Studios got a huge update not that long ago, there is a good chance that Animal Kingdom is next in line for a complete overhaul.

The Future is Bright

You may have heard that Disney is planing a huge, multi-billion investment in the upcoming decade when it comes to theme parks. Animal Kingdom, for example, will get a brand new area and new attractions based on movies like Zootopia and Encanto. Even Indiana Jones is joining the party, ready to get his very own ride where he will hopefully raid catacombs in search of treasure.

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This will be Animal Kingdom's biggest expansion since World of Pandora, and there is a good chance that it will become its biggest expansion ever. It's Tough to be a Bug! will close down inside the Tree of Life, apparently giving space to a whole new Zootopia attraction, and even Dinoland USA will be replaced entirely by new and exciting rides and shows. There are lots of shakeup and changes coming but, frankly, that is exactly what Animal Kingdom needs. 

I sometimes like to look at our favorite rides like I'm staring at a newly released videogame. New games usually show amazing graphics and fresh mechanics that can inspire a whole generation of upcoming releases, and keep us glued to the screen for months, sometimes even years. The same thing happens with a new ride. We just need to look at Avatar Flight of Passage, by the way. The visuals still look great even after six years, with high resolution textures and bright colors that really transport us to the world of Pandora.

Much like a videogame, though, theme park rides also face an invisible enemy that exists everywhere: time. I bet that Avatar Flight of Passage won't look as good when, in the next decade or so, a new motion simulator is released with even better visuals. It's all about perspective and what's available to the public so we can compare products.

It's certainly a very difficult and challenging battle to remain relevant. There is almost a 100% chance that Disney will update Avatar Flight of Passage in the next few years, be it with a whole new movie sequence or fresh visual effects to keep captivating guests. The same thing happens to a game, be it through a patch, a downloadable content or even a sequel to keep up with modern times and consumer needs. 

Sometimes a single game has done it all to keep us entertained, but we just get bored of it, ready to move on ahead in search of new experiences. We need something else. Fresh, innovative experiences and mechanics to keep our minds busy with an infinite realm of wonder and creativity. That's when we decide to open our wallets and buy the latest game release for about $60.

The same thing happens with theme parks and the awesome rides we love so much. The problem is that an intricate machine of steel costs around $100 million.

Hello, Animal Kingdom 2.0

Let's get down to business.

What exactly Animal Kingdom needs to compete with juggernauts like Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Magic Kingdom?

I imagine that a lot of the answers would be simply to say amazing rides. And, hey, you wouldn't be wrong if you said that. Awesome rides and attractions are the life and blood of any theme park. For now, though, I'd say that Animal Kingdom is carried by the World of Pandora, especially Avatar Flight of Passage, with Expedition Everest being a good supporting actor. Other than that? There's not much there to thrill guests, at least not yet.

The risky move to just replace Dinoland USA entirely is a very good one. Dinoland just feels dated, and the same can be said about its main ride, Dinosaur. Do kids nowadays even know that Dinosaur is a Disney franchise, by the way? It also doesn't help that the ride isn't that much fun. It's way too dark, it's bumpy and even manages to scare a lot of little kids with the animatronics and loud sounds. Yeah, replace it, please.

Now, if we only had another cool Disney franchise to take the reigns and star in a brand new attraction. Hm...

Indy to the rescue

Good news! Indiana Jones is coming to Animal Kingdom, as we reported here on Famvia. There are rumours that Indy is ready to take over the present Dinosaur ride, and a lot of guests think it's just going to be a reskin inspired by Indiana Jones Adventure from Disneyland.

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Please, God, no. Not another Dinosaur. 

It seems like reviews online for Indiana Jones Adventure are rather positive, but I'd love to see something completely new. Animal Kingdom deserves it. I published in one of my articles before that I'd love to see an indoor roller coaster themed after Indy. Maybe inspired by Universal Studios' Revenge of the Mummy, even. Indiana Jones goes hand to hand with dark temples and action sequences, so a mix of a dark ride with an indoor roller coaster could be *chef's kiss*.

A simple reskin of Dinosaur by just taking Indiana Jones Adventure from Disneyland and putting it in Florida would attract new guests, sure, but we would also reach the videogame-dilemma we talked about earlier. 

That would be technically an old ride with mechanics that are from 1995! Sure, Disney World could add updated visuals and a few surprises here and there, but the main idea behind the attraction probably wouldn't change much. The room for innovation would certainly be compromised, which doesn't happen if you start from scratch.

C'mon, Mickey. Open your wallet, bring an amazing new indoor roller coaster to Animal Kingdom. It doesn't even need to be as amazing or as expensive as Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. You don't even need to pay millions to have Harrison Ford talking in a pre-show for ten seconds. Just give us something entirely new and fun.

Encanto, Zootopia and more?

Disney already informed us that our favorite archeologist isn't the only one coming over to the party. Zootopia, Encanto and probably more franchises will find a new home in Animal Kingdom. Exciting!

It's Tough to be a Bug will be saying goodbye and leaving the iconic Tree of Life, probably giving its spot to a brand new ride inspired by Zootopia. This makes sense. Flick and his friends had a pretty fun 3D movie with a cool mix of good visuals and practical effects, but the attraction just feels old nowadays. It launched way back in 1998 alongside Animal Kingdom and never received any sort of major update.

Zootopia needs to be more than just a regular 3D movie, tough. We have tons of those already, from Muppets 3D to Mickey's PhilharMagic and Star Tours. What could it be? I'm not entirely sure. The space inside the Tree of Life isn't that big, so there is no way they can have a big ride there with moving vehicles like what we see in The Amazing Spider Man at Islands of Adventure.

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Maybe Disney could take the idea behind Avatar Flight of Passage to the next level? Mix it a little bit with Epcot's Soarin'? A huge 3D movie where you raise from the floor, carried by a massive mechanical arm - similar to Soarin' - but now you change levels during the ride depending on what's happening on the screen. Could even be a 4D attraction, with screens all around you, and your seat could change directions to point at different spots, similar to the technology used in Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.

The main thing that Disney needs to pay attention here is to make the screen really, really high resolution: we need to see everything. Every color, every little piece of detail. Please, no blurry textures that would look meh in just a few years.

We know you can do this, Disney.

Encantado!

What about Encanto? 

I guess the general feeling is that Encanto fits a live show more than a regular, traditional ride like a roller coaster, a drop tower ride or a motion simulator. The problem is that Animal Kingdom is already filled with live shows, from Festival of the Lion King to Finding Nemo. Well, how about we come up with a twist to make Encanto a little bit different from your traditional live performance?

I think that Encanto could use some ideas from Universal Studios' The Bourne Stuntacular. No, I'm not talking about Mirabel facing off against FBI agents and attack helicopters, but a fun show that mixes live performances on stage with visual effects displayed on a huge, high resolution screen positioned just behind the actors. The effects on the screen are generated by a computer, and actors react to them as if they were real!

Encanto is well known for how colorful and energetic it is, so mixing actors, visual effects and top notch technology could be the perfect cocktail for a really cool and original attraction. The more supernatural elements like magic and super powers could take place on the digital screen, while actors react to everything that is happening around them. 

Bonus idea: the action doesn't need to be limited to the main stage. Let's take this to the next level and have the ground changing colors and huge screens on both sides as well, which can react to spells being cast and the like. Maybe a forest is ready to embrace the audience, so we see giant branches all around us, or there is a volcano ready to blow up, maybe an EPIC explosion and--- sorry, I get way too excited about this.

What I mean is, there are a lot of options to bring new and amazing attractions for all of us.

Time will answer our questions

There we have it, folks. The future sounds bright for Animal Kingdom. Closing down Dinoland USA seems like a very smart move, and also replacing rides that have been there for more than twenty years (thanks for your sacrifice, Flick!). 

Animal Kingdom needs new blood - at least one or two new blockbuster rides to make it compete with big brothers Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Will that actually happen in the next few years or so? I wish I had a crystal ball to answer this question. At least we can see that Disney is serious in investing heavily in Animal Kingdom, changing up a few lands and expanding areas way beyond the World of Pandora.

What about you, are you excited about the future of Animal Kingdom? Feel free to send us a message and share your very own ride ideas for Indiana Jones, Encanto, Zootopia or any other Disney franchise you'd love to see there! You want to see an Indiana Jones 3D rolling boulder simulator? Sure. A Zootopia interactive shooting gallery where we are Judy Hopps shooting down bad guys? Okay, why not! We love all kinds of ideas.

Also feel free to contact us if you ever need help planning your next amazing, magical trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. We will be extremely happy to lend you a hand. Let's all wish Animal Kingdom good luck and until next time!

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