TPI trip report: Recent attractions boost Disney's Animal Kingdom2007-07-22
By Robert Niles: Disney built its most beautiful and intricately themed park with Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. But what's there to do? A shortage of good answers to that question plagued this park for the first years after its 1998 opening. But the recent addition of two world-class attractions, Expedition Everest (winner of the 2006 Theme Park Insider Award for World's Best New Attraction) and Finding Nemo - The Musical have elevated this park's attraction line-up to stand with its impressive decor.
I last visited Animal Kingdom five years ago. So it was time for me to see for myself these two new rides about which many TPI readers have raved. So that's what I did today. (I am in town for a business trip... coupled with a requisite family visit.)
Well, you were right. Everest might be the most impressively themed outdoor coaster ever built. And the Finding Nemo musical further demonstrates that Disney's commitment to live Broadway theater has paid off with captivating theme park shows, as well.
Yet I'm left with the frustrating suspicion that 90-plus percent of the folks who ride Expedition Everest either do not notice, or do not care about, the well-detailed back story that Disney's Imagineers have created for this fanciful trip up the world's tallest mountain. An in-queue 'museum' details the "mystery of the lost expedition" as well as 'evidence' of the elusive Yeti, which has terrorized visitors to (Disney's) Himalayas.
But we're on our way to an Everest expedition! Why should we worry about such superstition? After all, nothing ever *goes horribly wrong* on a theme park ride....
So, we board and we're off. Where, of course, something *goes horribly wrong.* The Yeti's attacked the expedition. We're thrown backward into a crevasse and we never summit the famed peak. Instead, we barely escape the grasping hand of the Yeti and we slide back to base camp.
It's a thrilling ride, made more rewarding through careful detail. A tapestry on the initial lift foreshadows the Yeti's attack. The exterior of the lift hill models Lhasa's Potala Palace. Disney fixes its "Thunder Mountain" problem by placing the locomotives at the *rear* of the ride trains, instead of up front where they block riders' views on Thunder Mountain. There's even a handy leather strap on the side of each lap bar, so ride attendants don't have to reach for your crotch to check that the lap bar's locked.
Finding Nemo - The Musical offers a 35-minute recap of the Pixar Academy Award winner, with the addition of original scores by the composer of the Tony Award-winning "Avenue Q." There's an "Avenue Q" vibe to this show, too, though it remains always kid-friendly, as puppeteers manipulate and sing for their charges while in full view of the audience. The score strikes a far different tone that the Randy Newman ballads that typically accompany Pixar tales, but these songs also engage the audience while effectively advancing the story.
The cast impresses as well, with strong singing and physical performances. Live instruments, instead of a tape, would elevate the show to near-perfect, but with four or five shows a day, as part of a $50-60 theme park ticket, I guess that's just not in Disney's budget.
My only other complaint about this otherwise don't-miss show? The theater's painful benches. Arriving 45 minutes early, as the guidebook requested, I sat on that awful narrow-slatted upright bench for nearly an hour, never finding a comfortable pose the entire time. So the highest compliment I can pay this show is that for its 35 minutes, I completely forgot about how awful that bench felt.
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