June 18, 2024

Lion King 30th Anniversary Celebration Coming to Animal Kingdom in Summer 2024


Walt Disney World is announcing events & offerings for June through September 2024, promising that Summertime is going to be extra magical this year! We're expecting news for each of the 4 parks (hopefully)–let's get

Walt Disney World is announcing events & offerings for June through September 2024, promising that Summertime is going to be extra magical this year! We’re expecting news for each of the 4 parks (hopefully)–let’s get the ball rolling with what’s coming to Animal Kingdom.

Get ready to roar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom where the celebration for the Lion King’s 30th Anniversary will prowl throughout the entire park from June 10 through September 6, 2024. There’s a whole new merchandise collection so you can see the iconic Disney’s Animal Kingdom stage show, Festival of The Lion King, in style.

Ready to rustle up some grubs? There will be special menu items to snack on, including a portly Pumbaa popcorn bucket to add to your pride. Walt Disney World teases that there’s more food to come for the celebration of 30 years of the Lion King, so stay tuned for that.

To fully embrace that “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle, head on over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch where you can once again meet Timon and Rafiki. Figuring out when these furry friends are available for hugs or advice on finding the most delicious bugs is as easy as checking out My Disney Experience.

While you’re at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, you can visit Animation Experience and learn to draw characters from “The Lion King.” (Please, visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch–they’re begging you to not leave Animal Kingdom before noon and contribute to crowding in the other parks!)

Turning to commentary, if this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Walt Disney World did something similar for the Lion King’s 25th Anniversary in 2019. It started in the winter and continued through the fall, and was a fairly uneventful event.

The biggest difference between then and now, it sounds like, was the 2019 incarnation of this anniversary celebration also featured the Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party on Discovery Island, a wild celebration where young adventurers can let out their inner animals on the dance floor. The party hosts engage everyone in entertaining dances and games inspired by “The Lion King” and some of the animals they’ve encountered in their travels.

Back when it was performed, musicians and a DJ provided the perfect soundtrack to the Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party, featuring animal-inspired popular songs and tunes from “The Lion King,” all performed in a World Beat style. Timon, Rafiki and their Disney animal pals Baloo, Koda, Meeko and Terk stopped by, too. It was a cute little show–we watched several times while waiting for orders from Flame Tree BBQ.

That Lion King celebration also featured fun photo spots, including a three-dimensional scene that looks as though it leapt right out of the film. The Tree of Life Awakenings in the evenings also showed a new story, depicting moments from Simba’s journey in a beautiful artistic style, set to evocative music inspired by the score of “The Lion King.”

Other Animal Kingdom additions for 2019 included Bollywood Beats and the Pandora Utility Suit, both of which are now long gone. Kevin from Up also debuted around then, but at least she’s still around (and awesome as ever!).

Given that it’s not in the announcement, my expectation is that Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party will NOT return for the Lion King Summer 2024 celebration. It’d be kinda odd to lead with merchandise and food if there’s actual substance, but who knows.

Regardless, my reaction to this summer event is “that’s it?” Sure, something is better than nothing, but Walt Disney World has a big problem with people leaving Animal Kingdom early and contributing to crowding at the other three parks that’s only worsened since ~2019 due to no nighttime spectacular and the new planet smell wearing off Pandora.

While Animal Kingdom expansion is finally on the horizon, it’s still a couple of years (at least!) away. I hope there’s a better plan than this in the meantime, because Animal Kingdom has definitely turned into a half-day park once again for the average guest. (No offense if you love DAK and could spend days, plural, there. You are not the average guest.)

Ultimately, what the park really needs right now is to rewind the clock to Summer 2016 when Animal Kingdom After Dark debuted. That event occurred the year before Pandora – World of Avatar and, if I recall correctly, was thrown together rather quickly when it became clear that Rivers of Light was plagued by problems and would be dramatically delayed.

During that summertime event, Animal Kingdom debuted the Discovery Island Carnivale and Harambe Wildlife Parti, as well as Tree of Life Awakenings, Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, and Kilimanjaro Safaris After Dark and other nighttime attractions. All of this with the goal of getting guests to stay all day in DAK, pre-Pandora.

Look, I’m not going to play the revisionist history game or put on the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia and pretend all of this was awesome and beloved. It very much was not. Our reviews at the time were fairly scathing.

What all of this did do was provide ample reason for staying in Animal Kingdom after dark at a similar point in the park’s history when there was a mass exodus in the afternoon. So to that extent, mission accomplished. Moreover, it actually tried something. While I personally did not like some of those things, they were not irredeemable or without value. There were nuggets of good ideas within all of it, including Jungle Book: Alive with Magic. (Especially that show!)

KiteTails was another good example of this. We were defenders of KiteTails, really appreciating the much-maligned show. It felt like an odd concoction cooked up late one night while raiding the fridge. It repurposed jet skis and kites leftover from Epcot Forever, and then added some gigantic lion, bear, ape, and bird kites. Boom, KiteTails was born.

Of course, much of what made that show special was the chaos of its epic crash landings. It was pretty fun to watch the “KiteFails” and cheer for Simba to nose-dive into the cheap seats. It was easy to see why KiteTails didn’t “land” well with average guests, and disappointing that Disney didn’t make the necessary changes to fix that. Speaking of which, one easy fix would’ve been doing it at dusk…and maybe setting the kits on fire. (I’m joking about the second part…mostly. EPCOT Forever did set its kites on fire!)

It’s honestly sad to me when something that’s clearly bad unsurprisingly underperforms and Disney’s answer is “stop doing it” rather than “fix it.” Guests not responding favorably to an offering doesn’t mean the core concept was a poor or that there’s no pleasing people…it speaks to the weak execution.

It’s like Disney makes a point of learning the wrong lessons, and throws their hands up in the air in defeat rather than giving it another try to create something good. There’s often very little introspection or reflection on what went wrong and why. (Tangential, but I fear the same will happen with Disney Jollywood Nights, which we also reviewed harshly–even though it was a good concept, just badly executed.) Even from the outside looking in, it often seems like there’s a certain arrogance and obliviousness with the entertainment teams–issues they should anticipate, but instead dismiss.

All of this is to say that it’s fairly obvious to me that Animal Kingdom should be offering nighttime entertainment to keep people in the park at night. I’ve been surprised that they’ve continued to do the 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. closings at all, given the (lack of) crowds. The solution to that is giving guests a reason to stay–such as a good nighttime spectacular or party vibe. A lot of money was dumped into Rivers of Light only for it to fail, but that doesn’t mean the underlying idea was a bad one. Ditto Jungle Book: Alive with Magic. Why not revisit those concepts, but create something that’s, you know, actually good? 

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Are you excited for the new Lion King 30th Anniversary stuff in Summer 2024 at Animal Kingdom? Does any of this move the needle at all on getting you to visit or stay longer? Think Walt Disney World should revisit the idea of evening entertainment at Animal Kingdom to stop (or at least slow down) the afternoon exodus? Agree or disagree with our take? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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