Welcome to the third post in the Imagineering Awesome series on Mouse on the Mind! You can access all of the posts by clicking on the link at right.
Today’s post comes to us from my good friend Jeff, of the Turkey Leg Jeffs. He … well, he stepped outside the traditional bounds of the rules. But I couldn’t have been happier he did. This is something that Disney World totally needs!
It’s 11 PM on a Wednesday night, and I’m thinking about how to “Imagineer Awesome.” Certainly staying awake into the wee hours of the night, working on only coffee and Mickey bars for fuel, was integral to the plans that would one day manifest themselves into the peerless attractions that make Disney Parks the greatest theme parks on Earth: Stitch’s Great Escape, Journey Into Imagination with Figment, Superstar Limo. Okay, not all of them were great, but that doesn’t diminish the efforts and blood, sweat, and tears of the unflagging superheroes of Disney Parks, the Imagineers.
Getting into the heads of these intrepid creative and technical wizards is not easy, but traces of their personalities lie all around the Parks. From initials to hidden Mickeys, bad puns to good puns, the Imagineers are everywhere you look, especially at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the soon-to-be home of Avatarland, based on the world’s highest-grossing film of all time.
Amazingly, though, for a film of such Brobdingnagian profits, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of excitement for this new immersive land. The arguments against it are sound: it doesn’t fit the overall theme of the park, it’s not Beastly Kingdom, and the Internet-speak version of “It wasn’t my idea, ergo it’s a terrible one.”
I can’t say I disagree; it’s not my first choice for a new land. Heck, it’s not in my top 200! But what is? What is the #1 thing I would do with Camp Minnie Mickey’s space (and maybe some surrounding land)? I’ll tell you…
South America is home to some the world’s most stunning natural, cultural, and living wonders: the Andes, Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Rio Carnival, the Amazon, and many more. Taking us to far off and fantastical places is what Disney does best, and imagining all the possibilities for education and entertainment that an entire continent provides is what makes Imagineering awesome. You don’t need a blockbuster film to make a great land, especially when one has a whole continent of riches from which to mine ideas. Nearly all the great attractions—The Haunted Mansion, Spaceship Earth, it’s a small world—have no connection to Disney films at all.
Now since Disney seems to be defining a land as 3 attractions and a counter service restaurant (I’m looking at you, Cars Land), here are some ideas that could make up South America in Animal Kingdom.
Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnival is a pageant of different samba schools, each of which creates spectacular floats and choreographed dances. Festejo is the Portugese word for a celebration, which is what guests will do when they enter a large theater similar to the one that is home to The Festival of the Lion King. Like FotLK, guests will be seated in different sections of the theater. These sections will be your samba schools, named for different parts of Brazil. You’ll cheer on your section’s dazzling float while it performs its samba dances to upbeat tunes that will evoke thoughts of that drunken night you spent partying in Rio on your Honeymoon that ended in the conception of your first born child. Carnival’s energy is infectious, so this show is a merging of staged shows, cultural education, and the omnipresent Disney dance parties.
Antisuyu Rainforest Path
Around 33% of all the known species on Earth come from the Amazonian rainforests, so it’s a natural fit to have a pathway devoted to this cornucopia of biodiversity in DAK. Jaguars, macaws, tamarinds, anacondas, capybaras, and more are displayed in an immersive themed exploration trail. Separating you from the fearsome creatures are Incan ruins and a running river—the mighty Amazon itself. Whereas the Maharajah Jungle Trek ends with a chirping aviary, the Antisuyu Rainforest Path would culminate in an aquarium highlighting some of the river’s 5000+ species of fish, including the fearsome and famous piranha. In case you are wondering, Antisuyu was the name of the eastern portion of the Incan empire, which included the jungles of the Amazon.
Iguazu Falls are a monumental series of waterfalls on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The falls have a legend surrounding them; one Disney can pivot into a story for a thrilling water attraction (yay water features!). The legend surrounds Naipi, a girl from the Guarani tribe, who was betrothed to Taruba, a powerful warrior from a neighboring tribe. Shortly before Naipi’s wedding, though, she was walking along the river and the god M’Boi saw her reflection in the water and fell in love with her. The god demanded that her tribe offer Naipi to him as a gift. The tribe’s elders, too afraid of the god, consented. Taruba and Naipi, desperately in love, were devastated but made plans to run away together. They would meet at the Iguazu River and escape their families and M’Boi. The vicious god spotted the lovers and in a fury, split the Earth, causing the great river to spill over exposed rocks and thus creating the Iguazu waterfalls. On one side of the falls was Naipi, whom M’Boi transformed into the great rock located at the bottom of the falls; on the other side was Taruba, who the god transformed into a giant palm tree, which still stands on the river bank. How cool would it be to turn this story into Disney’s next great E-ticket attraction, culminating in a plunge down the multi-tiered waterfalls?
Fogo de Chão
Let’s face it: Rainforest Café is bad. I hear it is “good for kids” and it’s a well-known commodity but that seems to be setting the bar pretty low. Tusker House and Yak & Yeti exist to fill those needs. DAK needs a nice restaurant, so why not bring in the popular meat extravaganza, Fogo de Chão? Fogo is a traditional Brazilian steakhouse, featuring grilled meats (including chicken, fans of ‘Ohana), and great sides and salads like crispy polenta, grilled and sweetened bananas, and roasted artichokes. It’s the same sort of tableside service you get at ‘Ohana, and considering how popular the Polynesian meat palace is, there would definitely be a market for this in DAK. Of course, I would rather Disney create their own version of Fogo de Chão, other than ‘Ohana, but Fogo is a known commodity like Rainforest Café, which I would remorselessly evict.
These are just a few of the ideas that come to my mind when I think of South America as a land in Animal Kingdom. I’m sure you are like me and have plenty more. How about an Indiana Jones-style trek through Machu Picchu? Or what about an Andes mountain roller coaster to complement Expedition Everest, adding the WDW “Mountain Range?” I love the Anandapur Tea Company in Asia, so how about a Yerba mate stand in South America? I love the idea of a Buenos Aires tango show!
Adding this seriously-overlooked continent to the park organically fits in with the theme and design already in place at DAK, whereas Avatarland seems conspicuous. Americans generally know quite little about the cuisine, culture, and geography of our southern neighbors. Disney could provide a unique opportunity to expand our horizons, introduce us to flavors and customs foreign to ours, and show us the biological diversity of the southern hemisphere’s western continent.
What do you think? Are you ready for a trip to South America? Let us know in the comments.