DinoLand, U.S.A. in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is one of those lands that a lot of Disney fans seem to have strong opinions about, myself included. At first glance, this land can feel a bit all over the place. There’s a section that looks like repurposed cabins and various other buildings; the Dino Institute (which houses the Dinosaur attraction) has completely different architecture and is kept up well, unlike some of its surrounding buildings… and then there’s Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama. It all feels completely incohesive, and at first glance, seems to make no sense.
This prompted me to do a deep dive into the story behind DinoLand, U.S.A. for an episode of my podcast. To say I was shocked and impressed with the level of backstory and detail in the land is an understatement. My feelings toward it have completely changed since learning more about it. But there’s still one space that doesn’t make sense… until now.
Before I go any further, I would like to make it perfectly clear that parts of the following are a made-up story coming from my head. This is by no means canon for DinoLand, U.S.A. This was just an idea that popped into my mind to continue and enhance the storytelling behind the land and I thought you might enjoy it.
The building in question is Theater in the Wild. You may be thinking to yourself, “Wait, what? Theater in the Wild is part of DinoLand U.S.A.?” Yes, indeed it is, according to the Walt Disney World website and park maps.
This is the one area of DinoLand, U.S.A. where I couldn’t find any research connecting it with the rest of the land. If you’re unfamiliar, Theater in the Wild is the performance space which currently holds “Finding Nemo – The Musical.” Before that, there was “Tarzan Rocks!,” and opening with the park was the show “Journey into the Jungle Book.” What do these three shows have in common? None of them are about dinosaurs! I’m glad I got that off my chest.
So how can we connect Theater in the Wild to the rest of DinoLand, U.S.A.? It all begins with Dr. Helen Marsh. As a reminder, you meet Dr. Marsh (portrayed by Phylicia Rashad) in the Dinosaur pre-show as she tells you all about the Time Rover. Dr. Marsh was originally hired by the Dino Institute trustees back in the 1970s. With the hiring of a well-respected doctor, the construction of the new Dino Institute plus the Time Rover, more and more scientists and tourists began to visit the area.
With so many scientists now interested in the Dino Institute, it’s not out of the question that the institute would need a large space (like a theater) to present panels and discussions to visiting scientists, guests and investors. Enter Theater of the Wild. No major changes would be necessary to make a story like this part of the land.
On the exterior of the Dino Institute, there’s a plaque dedicating the building on April 22, 1978 (un-coincidentally exactly twenty years before the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom). So, what if there was a plaque on the exterior of Theater in the Wild marking the same (or later) date as if it were an expansion of the Dino Institute for the previously suggested presentations? That would work it into the DinoLand, U.S.A. storyline. Let’s put in even more details to support that idea.
It’s not uncommon for the witty and punny Imagineers to make fictional
movie or performance posters for attraction lobbies and queues. For example, you see these in It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, Mickey’s PhilharMagic and numerous other attractions. At Theater in the Wild, they could hang posters advertising future presentations brought to you by Dr. Marsh, Dr. Seeker and other scientists from the Dino Institute. Heck, why not throw in some visiting guest speakers like Dr. Wayne Szalinski? And maybe even a Dr. Rohde just for fun.
By adding these simple details and story points, it would enhance the idea of this Theater in the Wild fitting within a bigger DinoLand, U.S.A. storyline. So why is “Finding Nemo – The Musical” being performed inside? Simple solution. Add a banner to the show poster that reads “Touring Through DinoLand U.S.A. for a Limited Time.” And if that doesn’t work for you, at least there are sharks in the show, which lived during the age of the dinosaurs.
And that is how I would simply fit Theater in the Wild into the rest of DinoLand, U.S.A.’s fascinating backstory. What do you think? Would you buy it? Do you have a better idea to make it fit? Let me know in the comments.
If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.