The advertisers were so proud of what the park wasn’t, they forgot to tell us what it was. Not that their summary would matter. They were wrong.
It is a zoo. And it’s a magnificent zoo. The animals are glorious, and the theming is some of Disney’s most tasteful work. Animal Kingdom has nothing to be ashamed of.
...except its attractions. If I were advertising a park whose E-tickets are a raft ride about deforestation and a movie where a stinkbug farts on us, I’d insist that it is only a zoo.
We need more attractions.
Expedition Everest was a helpful addition, but it’s a thrill ride. If we meet the height requirement, a yeti tries to eat us. If we don’t meet the height requirement, a yeti tries to orphan us.
We need attractions for all ages. If possible, they should be dark rides, partly because dark rides are a Disney speciality, but mostly because they’re air conditioned.
Let’s work backwards. If we scrutinize Animal Kingdom's lands, maybe we can find a subject they haven't explored yet.
Technically, this is Animal Kingdom’s Main Street, but it doesn’t have shops or restaurants. Neither does it have attractions, like a land.
Instead, it uses dense vegetation, animal pens, and captivating architecture to build an atmosphere. Its walkways meander and unfurl, beckoning us further into the park.
In this sense, the Oasis is the purest Main Street in Disney. It’s kinda perfect as it is. A dark ride would clutter it.
This is a tricky theme to interpret. Close your eyes and imagine what you might find in a place called “Discovery Island.”
I bet it’s not a pizzeria, a face painting stand, and a movie about bugs. It’s probably not a tattooed baobab tree, either.
To me, Discovery Island sounds like a place to begin an adventure on the high seas. A port suffused with the excitement of exploring what lays beyond the horizon. It would flourish as a land in Tokyo DisneySea.
In the context of Animal Kingdom, however, Discovery Island is more literal. It’s an island at the center of the park. We use its bridges to “discover” the other lands.
So it’s a vantage point to the rest of the park. What a selfless theme!
I’ll just sit here and photosynthesize all day. (Sigh.)”
EPCOT used to have a pavilion that served as a vantage point. It was called CommuniCore, and it gave an overview of what we were gonna see in Future World.
Bearing that in mind, Discovery Island could have an attraction that foreshadows what we’re gonna see in the other lands. Except it’s a bit daft to foreshadow something that’s two minutes away, so...maybe not.
If you’ve ever wondered how Disney would make a tent city, wonder no more.
In Camp Minnie-Mickey, characters wander between meet-and-greets like refugees.
of toilet paper and canned fruit.
The only attraction is a show that was adapted from a Lion King parade. That’s a nice way of saying, “The only attraction is an old parade that doesn’t move.”
It’s easy to rag on the Camp, because it was intended to be a placeholder land. It became permanent for reasons we’ll discuss later in this article.
The theme is summer camp in the Adirondacks. This suggests a few activities with animals. We can fish for trout, or birdwatch, or get chased by a bear through a bunk.
But can they be adapted into dark rides?
Donald Duck and Humphrey the Bear, "Rugged Bear."
There’s an awesome ride in this short! We sit in a Humphrey-themed vehicle, trying to avoid the dangers of hunting season!
If only it was related to summer camp, and wasn’t utterly horrifying!
Africa and Asia.
Both Africa and Asia have real animals.
Dark rides have animatronics.
Real animals are much more impressive than animatronic animals. If real animals aren't more impressive, Shareholdeering will evict 'em from the park, because they’re really, really expensive to keep.
Either way, we don’t want to invite the comparison between real animals and animatronics.
So neither Africa nor Asia will support an all-ages dark ride, unless it features real animals. And Critter Labor Laws get finicky about that.
Granted, there are two rides in Asia, but they’re about deforestation and a yeti, respectively, and not about real, living animals. Furthermore, they’re both thrill rides, and not for all ages.
Rafiki's Planet Watch.
It’s divided into a petting zoo, an exhibit on the park’s veterinary facilities, a lecture on gardening tips, and a hearty dollop of sanctimony about conservation.
There’s also a train called the Wildlife Express. It’s lovely, but it brings us backstage, past a series of dismal animal pens.
I’m trying to think of a subject that explores the destruction of nature without being too insufferable. Maybe we could adapt “the Firebird Suite” from Fantasia 2000 into a dark ride.
We’d be stretching, since the short is about nature's cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and not conservation.
Still, it'd make a pretty sweet roller coaster. We’re the sprite, soaring along elegantly, and then we pick up speed and turbulence as the firebird erupts.
A strong concept, but it's a thrill ride, and it doesn’t belong in Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
As we've discussed, it doesn't meet our exacting standards.
It's a pity. The land is ideal, because its animals are extinct, so it requires animatronics. Real dinosaurs could outclass animatronics, but they’d have to put on some weight, get back into fighting shape.
Alas, Animal Kingdom is a park that thrives on realism, and realistic dinosaurs are f’n scary. We brainstormed an all-ages ride, the Mesozoic Safari, but it's outdoors. Exciting, accessible, and utterly sweltering.
A wild card.
Our all-ages dark ride needs a land whose animals are neither real, nor f'n scary. Thankfully, such a land exists!
Originally, Animal Kingdom was gonna celebrate three types of animals: living, extinct, and imaginary. When the park ran out of money, they could only afford to celebrate two.
Living animals were prioritized, because it’s nice to have animals in Animal Kingdom.
That left the extinct animals of Dinoland, USA to duke it out with the imaginary animals of Beastly Kingdom.
At the time, Shareholdeering was sinking money into the movie, Dinosaur. Before long, they realized that it wasn't a movie, but rather, a forgettable budget sponge. They grew concerned about their investment.
Rather than allowing Dinosaur to limp into an unmarked grave, they mandated that it be immortalized in a theme park! And lo, a cross-promotional version of Dinoland, USA was born.
So the extinct animals were resurrected, and the imaginary animals went extinct.
Camp Minnie-Mickey was erected on Beastly Kingdom’s real estate as a placeholder. The money that was earmarked for Beastly Kingdom was siphoned to the other parks, and the Camp became a settlement.
Beastly Kingdom’s abortion was tragically well-documented. The most comprehensive chronicle I’ve found is Jim Hill’s series, “Is DAK’s Beastly Kingdom DOA?” I recommend it. Here are parts one, two, and three.
We need Beastly Kingdom.
This isn’t a groundbreaking opinion. Everyone who’s heard of it wants it to be built.
But my point is larger: a land for imaginary animals is more than a cool idea. It's the only theme in the park that allows for an all-ages dark ride. It meets all of our stipulations.
Imaginary animals don’t exist, so they won’t be outclassed by real ones.
The scary animals can be stylized so that they’re not scary. Stylizing the animals won’t conflict with Animal Kingdom’s fetish for realism, since we don’t have real versions to compare them with.
What’s more, the subject is broad enough for several all-ages dark rides! There’s a ride on every page of every bestiary!
Other lands can host rides about imaginary animals. The yeti of Expedition Everest lives in Asia, and rightfully so. We can totally do that again, and build a Chinese dragon ride in Asia, and a sphinx ride in Africa...
...but what if we want an ogre ride, or a Mother Goose show? Animal Kingdom doesn’t have a Europe-themed land.
So long as we’re developing rides about imaginary animals, we might as well develop them for Beastly Kingdom. If they fit into an existing land, great. That makes it more possible for our (wholly impossible) plans to be realized someday.
The best solution to Animal Kingdom’s all-ages dark ride deficiency is the land that was designed to solve Animal Kingdom’s all-ages dark ride deficiency.
Pure Imagineering: we don't state the obvious. We prove it.