There is so much to see and do at Animal Kingdom, that it is hard to fit it all in, but one thing I would not want to miss is the wonderful and very spectacular ‘Festival of the Lion King,’ in Camp Minnie Mickey. We normally try to catch a performance later in the day, after we have visited most of the attractions. It is quite a long walk to the huge auditorium, but its well worth it, even if your feet are killing you by then. Try to arrive reasonably early as it gets pretty full and you can then choose where you sit.
The 1000 seat auditorium is now fully enclosed, and benefits from the addition of air conditioning. When we first visited Animal Kingdom it was open at the sides, and sometimes, during heavy showers or thunderstorms it was difficult to remain focused, because of the deafening noise of the rain and thunder. It could also be rather hot and humid, but now it is great.
The atmosphere is electric as the show starts, and the huge animatronic animals emerge from behind the curtains, accompanied by colourfully dressed cast members who sing and dance. Their tribal costumes are extravagant and stunning, with bold colours and vivid use of a variety of materials, and their typical African headdresses are very spectacular. There are 4 animatronic animals, Simba, who sits atop Pride Rock, a swaying giraffe, an elephant, and, in the jungle, Pumba and Timon. The theatre, which has 4 banks of seats, is then divided up so that each bank represents an animal – elephant, wart hog, lion and giraffe. The audience is encouraged to make appropriate noises for their allotted animal, and a member of the audience is coaxed down onto the floor to demonstrate their prowess at making animal noises. It is no problem for elephant or lion, but giraffe and warthog have a bit of a struggle. After a quick practice, this fast moving show is on the road.
There are acrobatic monkeys, in their startling orange striped costumes, who cavort and tumble on the trampoline that rolls out of the central area. They swing on the trapeze and provide a fast moving and intricate display of acrobatics. They tumble and twist and turn, whilst the song ‘Hakuna Matata’ plays. There is a high speed finale, and then, almost in the bat of an eyelid the trampoline is folded away and disappears.
The mood changes dramatically and the auditorium is filled with pounding drums. The lights are lowered and in come the tribal warriors on stilts, their spectacular costumes, red and yellow striped, grass skirts, topped off with feathered tribal headdresses. There is a fire show, with plumes of flame rising out of the central stage area. The whole floor looks to be alight, and there are spinning torches, surrounded by colorful dancers – but there is an air of foreboding. Fire eaters make us gasp as they swallow flames.
The mood changes yet again, and all is calm and lightness. A turquoise and red bird dances in front of us, the female lifted high into the air, spinning and swooping. They perform to the sounds of that beautiful duet, and one of my favourite songs, ‘Can you feel the love tonight?’ which is sung with such feeling that it brings a lump to your throat. It is enchanting and romantic, and a spine tingling moment as you listen to the glorious harmonies. The female bird spins high in the sky, and as she circles above the audience there is orchestral music – a world in perfect harmony, connected in the circle of life. This wonderfully emotive song is sung with great power and emotion – the whole auditorium is simply transfixed by the beauty and emotion of it all.
Then it’s straight into the powerful, exciting and joyous ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ with its rhythmic chorus of ‘Whimoweh!’ and everyone joins in the singing and clapping, with a parade of eager children drawn into the centre of the auditorium. More songs follow – Hakuna Matata – ‘no worries for the rest of your days’ – indeed your worries simply disappear in the magic of it all. The birds return for another beautiful song, followed by the powerfully song ‘Be Prepared’ when an atmosphere of menace and evil emanates.
Simba reappears and sings ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ a happy, rhythmic song in which the whole audience participates. ‘The Circle of Life’ brings the ‘tingle’ factor once more, and delicate birds are brought out on tall sticks, swooping and gliding high above the audience. The finale, itself, is truly spectacular, engulfing you in song and music and dancing, drawing us all together in the circle of life. All too soon it is over, and the huge animatronic animals glide silently backstage. If you are quick, you might just get a photograph before they disappear.
I always leave with a feeling of great calm, awe and wonder, after this truly memorable show, which although offering just a brief taste of the magical musical, The Lion King, brings a visit to Animal Kingdom to a remarkably beautiful end. It is one of Disney’s best shows, combining wonderful sound systems, superb singers and dancers, remarkable animatronics, fast action, suspense, romance, and beautiful songs, in a way that only Disney can do. Don’t miss it, whatever you do.
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