Extinct attractions of Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Roller-skating gorillas? Poachers? Pocahontas interacting with a live raccoon? The history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is wild. Walt Disney World’s fourth park opened on April 22, 1998. As the park prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, let’s take a look back at some of Animal Kingdom extinct attractions that are no longer in operation — in the approximate order of their closure.
Journey Into Jungle Book
Today, guests enjoy “Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!” inside the Theater in the Wild, an indoor venue. However, when the park opened in 1998, this space was sheltered and open-air, playing host to a show called “Journey Into Jungle Book.”
Animal Kingdom’s opening-day map described the show like this: “Have a whole jungle of fun at this highly theatrical live stage production. This hilarious and song-filled adventure will be a delight for all ages.”
Rather than featuring the familiar mascot versions of the film’s characters (who posed for pictures elsewhere in Walt Disney World), “Journey Into Jungle Book” took a Broadway-style approach. Live performers embodied artistic interpretations of the characters, clearly actors rather than pretending to be the “real” Baloo, King Louie, and the gang. This was a departure from traditional Disney shows like, for example, “Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage.”
“Journey Into Jungle Book” closed sometime in 1999 to make way for “Tarzan Rocks!” It wouldn’t be the last time Animal Kingdom tried to infuse “The Jungle Book” into the park, though. As we’ll later see, the movie saved the day at a pivotal moment in the park’s history.
March of the ARTimals
Guests in the early days of Animal Kingdom lined up along the streets of Discovery Island (then called Safari Village) to soak in “March of the ARTimals,” the park’s first parade. Much like Main Street, U.S.A., Discovery Island’s backstory includes inhabitants of a fictional locale who embody the spirit of the park. In this case, they all love animals.
“March of the ARTimals” presented itself “as if the artists of Safari Village get together twice a day for the sheer fun of celebrating the animal world,” writes Melody Malmberg in “The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.” Malmberg also notes that Swiss artist Rolf Knie designed the floats.
Typically, Disney takes inordinate measures to preserve the magic — to maintain character integrity and uphold the idea that its characters are real. Interestingly, though, in the case of “March of the ARTimals,” preserving the magic meant revealing the magicians. The guest wasn’t supposed to believe the anthropomorphic frog dancing down the street was a “real” frog. It was a Safari Village resident dressed as a frog. As such, it and all the other animals in the procession wore costumes that exposed the performers’ faces.
“March of the ARTimals” closed in June 1999, leaving the park without a parade for the next two years.
Discovery River Boats
If you’ve ever noticed two boat docks in Animal Kingdom — one in Discovery Island and another near Asia — you’ve stumbled upon a bit of Disney history. These docks served as the launching points for Discovery River Boats, also called Discovery River Taxi and Radio Disney River Cruise during its short life.
The most exciting parts of the journey included a dinosaur animatronic in the water and a dragon who breathed fire from a cave (but guests only saw the fire, not the dragon). Otherwise, the trip was low-key and uneventful, calmly transporting guests from point A to point B. The attraction closed in 1999, its docks later used for character greetings.
DinoLand U.S.A. opened with Animal Kingdom in 1998, but its mini-land, Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama, didn’t exist yet. Instead, Dinosaur Jubilee stood on the plot of land where Imagineers later built the carnival-themed area.
“Meander through dino artifacts,” the park’s opening-day map said of the experience. “See casts of spectacular real dinosaur skeletons!” The walk-through, housed in a white tent, eventually closed when construction commenced for Dino-Rama, which Disney announced in 2000 and opened in 2001.
Located in the Theater in the Wild and replacing “Journey Into Jungle Book,” the opening of “Tarzan Rocks!” coincided with the theatrical debut of Disney Animation’s “Tarzan” film in summer 1999. When my family entered the queue for this show in 2000, a Cast Member welcomed us and said, “Enjoy the concert!” We were a bit puzzled. Concert? We quickly learned his verbiage was spot-on.
Unlike any Disney production before or after it, “Tarzan Rocks!” brought Phil Collins’ soundtrack to life with a convergence of artistic mediums whose end result was just plain cool. A band and live vocalists played the film’s music in a rock and roll style, stunt performers on roller skates (meant to be gorillas!) circled the audience on elevated 360-degree platforms, Tarzan literally swung through the air on a vine, and Jane and Terk waved to the audience via a stage thrust.
“Tarzan Rocks!” closed in January 2006, with “Finding Nemo: The Musical” replacing it about a year later.
Daily Opening Ceremony
Today, Magic Kingdom is the only Walt Disney World park to have a formal opening ceremony with characters each morning, but one of the Animal Kingdom extinct attractions is the daily proceedings of its own.
It’s difficult to trace the exact timeline of this small ceremony’s history. With the help of YouTube and pieces of my memory, my best guess is this welcome moment debuted sometime in the mid-2000s and ended sometime in the early or mid-2010s.
An early version, with rope drop held at Discovery Island, involved Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto arriving in a truck. Mickey waved from a look-out near the Tree of Life as the gang went over their packing list for their day in the park. A later iteration was basically the same show, sans Goofy and swapping locations to The Oasis. (In 2009, the park even had a closing ceremony, similarly bookending the day with characters in the same truck.)
Little Red on Kilimanjaro Safaris
If you seem to remember Kilimanjaro Safaris being a little bit more… shall we say, high-stakes, you’re not imagining things. A former version of the ride placed a greater emphasis on a storyline involving saving a fictional baby elephant named Little Red from poachers. At the conclusion of the ride, guests saw Little Red (an Audio-Animatronics figure) safe and jubilant, waving its trunk with glee.
Disney dropped the rescue mission storyline from Kilimanjaro Safaris in 2012, removing the fake elephant from the attraction. Of all the Animal Kingdom extinct attractions, this had the smallest impact as the ride still takes place within the fictional Harambe Wildlife Reserve and encourages a message of animal protection, it just has less of a throughline story.
The area currently inhabited by Pandora – The World of Avatar is shrouded in theme park legend. During Animal Kingdom’s early development, the area may have been where Disney planned on building a land devoted to mythical creatures. Instead, when guests visited Animal Kingdom on opening day in 1998, they found Camp Minnie-Mickey in the southwest corner of the park. According to Disney’s official companion book published when the park opened, Imagineers built Camp Minnie-Mickey because “as work on the park progressed, projections of attendance were revised upward, and a new attraction was needed.”
Imagineer Alex Wright elaborates in the 2007 book “The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.” Wright describes Camp Minnie-Mickey as “the place where our beloved Disney friends go for vacation.” In context to the park’s bigger purpose, Wright says, “Camp Minnie-Mickey takes us back to the days of our earliest introductions to animals” and “represents fictional creatures and our tendency to anthropomorphize animals.” The land took place in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, recalling a summer camp vibe.
Camp Minnie-Mickey didn’t have any rides. Instead, it hosted four “character greeting trails,” wooded pathways leading to open-air shelters where Mickey and pals posed for photos. The area was also the original home of Festival of the Lion King, as well as an outdoor show starring Pocahontas. The production went by a few names over the years, including “Colors of the Wind: Friends from the Animal Forest” and “Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends.” Pocahontas interacted with a Grandmother Willow puppet and live animals, including a very real raccoon (no mascot Meeko here).
Camp Minnie-Mickey closed in 2014. Festival of the Lion King relocated to a new theater in Africa while the former camp expanded and transformed into Pandora – The World of Avatar.
Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade
In 2001, all four Walt Disney World parks held daily parades as part of the 100 Years of Magic celebration. Animal Kingdom debuted Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade, a procession of creatively designed Jeep-like vehicles and larger-than-life animal puppets.
Rafiki led the way, followed behind by Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Mickey, each with their own car. Jungle-themed characters danced in the street while a handful of lucky guests got to ride onboard various floats. The parade even had a holiday version, Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade, with wintry décor and a completely different soundtrack.
Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade performed for the final time in June 2014, leaving Animal Kingdom without a parade since.
The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic
In the years leading up to the 2017 grand opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar, Disney teased a monumental shift in how guests would soon experience Animal Kingdom. Because Pandora would glow with bioluminescence after dark, the park would host regular extended evening hours for the first time in its history, staying open until 11 p.m. every single night in summer 2016 (before that, the park typically closed at dusk.) To go along with these new nighttime operations, the park planned to debut a new show, Rivers of Light, in the lagoon near Expedition Everest. The company teased Rivers of Light by name as early as 2014.
Disney announced an April 2016 opening for Rivers of Light, but it was not to be. Disney delayed the show’s opening, but the resort’s summer campaign had already centered much of its fanfare upon Animal Kingdom’s nighttime hours. This necessitated a new production that barely had time to be created.
So went the saga of “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic,” a temporary nighttime show that ran during summer 2016. The production featured live vocalists and water screens with moments from both the animated and just-released live-action versions of “The Jungle Book.” The show was always meant to be a hold-over and didn’t quite qualify as a “nighttime spectacular” on the scale of other Disney nighttime shows. Still, it saved the park from having to eat crow and retract its promise of extended operations.
Various Productions at Caravan Stage
Caravan Stage, just on the outskirts of Asia, has always been home to an educational production showcasing some of the park’s most incredible birds. For many years, this show was “Flights of Wonder,” which was rather straightforward and informational.
In 2018, the show revamped and became “UP! A Great Bird Adventure,” retaining bird edutainment but also including Russell and Dug in scripted moments with a loose narrative of trying to find Kevin the bird. This iteration didn’t last long. When Animal Kingdom reopened following the pandemic shutdown in 2020, guests found a Pixar-less “Feathered Friends in Flight!” That version of the show continues today.
Rivers of Light
After extensive delays, the highly anticipated Rivers of Light finally previewed in late 2016 and officially opened in early 2017. It featured light-up floats in the water resembling flora and fauna, as well as fountains and a handful of performers in boats.
For as hyped as the show had been, it never seemed to stick a landing that satisfied the park’s desire for a sans-fireworks nighttime spectacular. This was evidenced by Disney’s almost constant tweaks to the production in quick succession.
First the show removed its live performers. Then in 2019 it became “Rivers of Light: We Are One,” adding clips from nature-themed Disney movies on its water projections. After the pandemic closure in 2020, Disney announced Rivers of Light would not return, ending a long tale of creative and technical trial-and-error.
Animal Kingdom is still frequently open after dark, and Pandora now shines with its luminous glow. However, the park seldom reaches the lengthy hours of that fateful “Jungle Book” summer. Nothing replaced Rivers of Light, leaving the Tree of Life’s “awakenings” projections as the only form of nighttime entertainment. For what it’s worth, the Rivers of Light soundtrack — which absolutely slaps and was co-developed by Mark Mancina, who also scored “Tarzan” — is on Spotify.
Primeval Whirl combined spinning teacups with a madmouse roller coaster. It opened in 2002 as part of Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama within DinoLand U.S.A. Tongue-in-cheek and plenty cheesy, the ride existed as double identical tracks side by side. Following a period of Primeval Whirl only operating seasonally, Disney announced in 2020 that the attraction was closed for good. Today, its former space remains empty. Primeval Whirl’s neighbor attraction, the spoke-and-wheel TriceraTop Spin, is still operational.
Animal Kingdom’s lagoon might just be cursed. Following the years of attempts at a nighttime show, the park debuted the daytime production Disney KiteTails in fall 2021 at the onset of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration. Cast Members drove jet skis pulling huge kites resembling favorite Disney animals, like Simba and Baloo. The kites flailed through the air before unceremoniously landing nearby where guests sat.
Like Rivers of Light, KiteTails experimented with a few different forms of presentation. It began as two separate “shows,” one themed to “The Lion King” and the other to “The Jungle Book,” each having structured showtimes. In summer 2022, the show switched it up and became a series of smaller, spontaneous moments scattered throughout the day that guests were meant to stumble upon rather than wait around for.
Alas, KiteTails didn’t even make it to the conclusion of the 50th festivities. It closed in September 2022, the lagoon still awaiting a new production that dares to break the curse.
What Will Be Extinct Next?
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is constantly evolving, as its first quarter-century of operations prove. So what will be next to go?
During D23 Expo 2022, Imagineers indicated DinoLand U.S.A. will eventually be re-imagined. Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro, Imagineering executive Chris Beatty, and Disney Animation Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee shared “blue sky” concept art with Expo attendeesfor an idea that would transform DinoLand into experiences inspired by “Zootopia” and “Moana.” They stressed that these intentions were one of several proposed ideas for the space, and that their comments were not a formal announcement. What’s the timeline for this re-imagining? As Dr. Marsh says in the Dinosaur pre-show, “That’s proprietary.”
Regardless of what does or doesn’t get built, it seems clear that DinoLand will switch things up in some way. So if your favorite area of the park happens to be the world-famous Diggs County, you might want to swing by and say farewell to a certain “heck of a paleontologist” while you can.
A great blast from the past. Thank you.
My daughter, along with my parents, was lucky enough to be able to ride in the Jammin’ Jungle Parade. My wife and I missed it, but I heard her wave would rival any other princess wave.