Welcome to the next post of Disney Extinct Attractions! My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your Rafiki on today’s circle of life!
I’m glad you found your way back to those returners, and nice to meet you to the new readers out there!
I’m sorry it took a little longer to get the post out this week, but it was finals week, so I’ve been studying pretty much nonstop. That being said, finals means the summer is getting closer and closer, so peak season has arrived at the Disney parks (aka the time for Annual Passholders to grumble about how crowded the parks are!). This summer is going to be huge at the Disney parks because of major refurbishments (Soarin’ around the World), new attractions (Frozen Ever After), and most of all, Shanghai Disneyland!
Long in development, the park will finally open on June 16. It really seems like it not only will have the classic Disney feel, but also a unique, Chinese take on a Magic Kingdom-style park. I know I already want to save up to visit it some time in the distant future! Included in the resort complex are two hotels and Disneytown, a shopping and entertainment area similar to Downtown Disney. A theater in Disneytown will feature the first-ever Mandarin version of the musical The Lion King, which actually brings us to our featured attractions of the day!
If you are reading this article, you have almost definitely seen The Lion King (if you haven’t, you have to tell me your story of how that’s possible!) and know about its enormous success. The film won two Academy Awards, and more impressively, is in the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time when adjusted for inflation! Naturally, the Imagineers were going to capitalize on that success and attractions based on The Lion King showed up in the parks sooner rather than later! What makes the whole situation even more interesting is that the attraction The Legend of the Lion King was actually developed simultaneously with the film, showing the faith that Disney had in the property.
The attraction ended up opening in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom on July 8, 1994, a mere two weeks after the film opened, taking the place of Magic Journeys. The most unique part of the show was actually the “actors,” in this case known as “Humanimals.” All of the characters in the show, save Rafiki (more on him later), were performed by puppeteers, generally from underneath the stage.
I really love this photo because you can see what went into actually bringing the characters to life! I personally find it fascinating that they could pull this show off so well up to 30 times a day! The show functioned very similarly to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, in that it continuously ran throughout the day, but with live performances each time. These live shows set it apart from other continuous shows that tend to be pre-recorded, and the style of performance is not something that you see happen very often anymore!
But back to the puppets! In addition to the starring puppeteers, an actor portrayed Rafiki in a walk-around character outfit. (It must have been so surreal to interact with a bunch of puppets as the lone actor on stage!)
Speaking of Rafiki, he actually started guests’ journey into the attraction with his introduction of the story of Simba, before audience’s attentions shifted to a video screen showing the opening of The Lion King (i.e. The Circle of Life). It was extremely important to set up the story well because of how close the attraction opened to the movie. A lot of early guests would likely not be familiar with the story, so this show had the combined task of introducing these new characters, while also making it feel fresh for those who had seen the movie.
Overall, I really enjoyed the show, but I think that it could have flowed a little better and featured a little more time with the songs because a lot of them were cut short! Anyway, I’m going to put two different links here with versions of the show. This one includes the preshow, but the quality is pretty shoddy, so here is a second version that is much better quality if you don’t want to watch the preshow. Other than the preshow, the actual content in each video is identical, so no need to worry about that!
It’s great that we still have an opportunity to watch this show after its closure on February 23, 2002 to make way for Disney’s PhilharMagic. The show was starting to feel old, plus the Animal Kingdom had The Festival of the Lion King that brought in much larger crowds than the Legend of Lion King. Overall, I think was a good decision to bring in PhilharMagic with its broader appeal, especially since PhilharMagic still brings in guests today.
It was not the end for all of the puppets, however, as some of them moved to Animagique at Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris. Ironically, the other attraction named The Legend of the Lion King opened in Disneyland Park in Paris on June 26, 2004.
Disneyland Paris’s version could not have been more different than the one at the Magic Kingdom. To begin with, it was located in the Videopolis Theatre in Discoveryland (the park’s version of Tomorrowland). I am a little confused by the choice of putting the theater in that location, especially because most of the residents of the theater were shows that had nothing to do with the premise of the future, focusing primarily on Disney Animated Classics or shows relating to Mickey. That being said, the show itself was extremely unique, combining filmmaking, The Festival of the Lion King, and the Broadway musical version into one extravaganza!
The whole attraction is framed around Timon directing a show about Simba’s life. The human cast members play the roles of the leads to allow mobility around the stage and help create more pomp with each performance. But animatronic versions of the characters from the movie do show up on the sides of the stage to help the show along. They really function as additional guests giving commentary on the show itself (a nice little addition that helps set the show apart!).
In terms of the actual performance, the show really feels like a combination of the Festival of Lion King and the Broadway musical version of The Lion King. The show feels more like a musical jubilee than one consistent story, much in the same way that the Festival of the Lion King does. With regard to the musical, the costumes are very similar to the ones seen in the Broadway performance, and as far as I could tell, it used an all African-American cast, also like the musical.
I don’t want to dive much more into what goes into the attraction because it really is a unique experience that should be seen with an open mind. For those of you who want to watch it, you can find it right here. I really do recommend checking this show out because it combines so many different elements that make it feel both unique and original!
Unfortunately, that originality was not enough to keep it around, and the attraction closed in 2009, simply due to a lack of attendance. There were so many empty seats at every show that they could not justify keeping the show around any longer, so they replaced it with a show called Cinema Mickey (and it is now home to the Jedi Training Academy!).
And with that, our tour of the Legends of the Lion King has reached its final stop on the circle of life. But Hakuna Matata, there will be an article next week (and hopefully out faster than this one was!) that follows these three clues!
1. This attraction was featured in three different parks.
2. This attraction could be found in multiple lands in each park.
3. The entrance to the attraction can still be found in one of the parks (tentatively).
I hope you enjoyed this post and be sure to leave me feedback either below or on the post where you found this! As always, you can also email me at email@example.com and join the Facebook Group for updates on when the next post is out (unless you found this in a different Facebook group, in which case you’ll be able to find future posts there as well)! I really love hearing what you guys thinking about each post and any experiences that you might have had on the attractions!
And with that punny joke, have a magical day!!