Disney's Animal Kingdom today with a ceremony and a new show.Walt Disney World celebrated the 20th anniversary of
Even though today was the theme park's birthday, Disney World's fourth park got its big present 11 months ago, when Pandora: The World of Avatar opened and made Animal Kingdom what many fans (including yours truly) now believe to be the best theme park in Orlando.
"When we first proposed that The Walt Disney Company build a park about animals, it was regarded as a particularly challenging and unlikely thing to do. But Animal Kingdom has now become a beloved member of the Disney family of parks," Imagineer Joe Rohde wrote on his Instagram this weekend.
"We work with obvious tools - with wires and plastic, with concrete and steel, with scripts and talent, with all the technology and cleverness we can muster - but nothing can compare to the beauty and the majesty and the touching fragility of the living animals that are the soul of Disney's Animal Kingdom. For all of our technological showmanship, the best places in the park are the quiet places, where we, who call ourselves magicians, step aside for a moment and hold up our frame as if to say, 'Look at that! Is that not the most beautiful creature you have ever seen? Nature itself holds the truest magic. The magic of life itself.'"
But even as animals provided the inspiration and attractions for this park two decades ago, Disney's march toward incorporating franchise IP has not avoided Animal Kingdom. Pandora, of course, is based upon the highest-grossing film of all time — James Cameron's Avatar. Even the park's central icon, the Tree of Life, contains underneath it a 4D show based on a Pixar film that came out a few months after the park opened. And that new show, debuting for the anniversary, is UP! A Great Bird Adventure, a Pixar-themed refurb of the old Flights of Wonder show, now featuring animated characters Russell and Dug.
Nevertheless, Animal Kingdom manages to find space to accommodate both IP and the natural world, one the reasons why it has become so compelling for so many fans. Sure, you can watch first-class musical productions based on The Lion King and Finding Nemo. But you also can enjoy the elegant beauty of Rivers of Light or gaze upon the objets d'art and photos of Imagineers at work in the field on the walls at Tiffins, the world's best in-park table service restaurant (as Theme Park Insider readers voted last year). Or you can take all the time you want to simply watch the animals on the park's many walk-through trails.
This isn't some one-note park. It's a sonata of themed entertainment, filled with variety that can engage and inspire any theme park fan.
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