The Short and Strange History of Rivers of Light Disney's Animal Kingdom's First Permanent Night Time Spectacular

In preparation for Pandora World of Avatar, Disney's Animal Kingdom prepared to do something it hadn't ever had to do before. Be open on a consistent basis after dark. This meant bringing in night time entertainment to the park for the first time ever.

Welcome to Disney Parks History and today we are bringing you the history of Rivers of Light at Disney's Animal Kingdom, from a rocky start to IP invasion, to an unceremonious ending.

Pandora was planned as a major expansion to Disney's Animal Kingdom. It would be the first major addition to the park based solely on a film and a non-Disney film at that. This land would cause major changes to the entire park.

One of the most significant changes that the land would cause was the extension of park hours at Disney's Animal Kingdom. As the park had operated with several major attractions being tied to live animals, it had usually closed before dark on most days.

Avatar had created a world that you wanted to visit in Pandora, but the most intriguing part of the world was how it was transformed at night. This meant in order to adequately capture the magic of the film, the park would have to remain open at night.

The problem was the park had not been designed to open at night, so it would need major changes to stay open at night, including to Kilimanjaro Safari.

But most significantly it would bring a series of night entertainment to the park for the first time. This would bring two major shows, Tree of Life Awakenings and Rivers of Light.

For these, Disney could not use their normal approach to night shows, fireworks, as it might disrupt the animals of the park. A night parade had been explored at one point also called Rivers of Light, but it was cost-prohibitive for the changes it would require in the rest of the park. Instead, they took an approach from another show they had developed without fireworks.

World of Color had to be developed without fireworks due to proximity to Disneyland and local regulations involving fireworks. It forced Disney to innovate with projection water screens and fountains to create effects that were just as visually impressive as fireworks.

Rivers of Light Lotus Fountains Disney's Animal Kingdom

This show would take the basic format of World of Color, but instead of using a permanent platform, it would use a series of barges, creatively themed as lotus flowers. It would also add a few unique elements with a fire barge, and several color changing barges in the shape of animals.

This show was initially planned to open on April 22nd, 2016 in advance of Pandora, but technical delays would delay the show until February 17th, 2017, with previews having begun on February 10th.

The final show would feature several live characters accompanying water, fire, barge, and projection effects. They would play shaman and acolytes symbolizing fire and water, and would tell the story through symbolic dance. They would appear before the show in the audience before getting onto boats and introducing us to the show.

They would then introduce the four animal spirits. A tiger representing fire, two African elephants representing earth, a sea turtle representing water, and finally a great horned owl family representing air. The spirits would then leave the lanterns and enter astral forms causing the lotuses to begin dancing along with projections.

An original song would then play along with projected clips DisneyNature documentaries.

There would then be a grand finale featuring a cumulation of all the effects featured throughout the show including a fire lotus barge and bringing in the Tree of Life.

This show premiered to average reviews with most saying it was worth a watch but did not live up to the night entertainment at any other park at Disney World. Tree of Life Awakenings and Pandora at night were both better-received aspects of the new nighttime entertainment at the park.

The popularity of this show fell quickly, with many not watching it on each visit after seeing it once. This led to the show being subject to budget cuts, removing the live shamen but keeping the show unchanged other than that but this was an early sign that Disney realized the show needed work.

Eventually, it was announced the show would be rethemed in a new version known as Rivers of Light: We Are One. This version was announced to be taking parts of the original show and incorporating Disney music and characters into it. Films featured included The Lion King, Brother Bear, Tarzan, Bambi, Moana, The Jungle Book, Pocahontas, The Rescuers, the Finding Nemo films as well as the DisneyNature films. It premiered on May 24th, 2019.

The new show felt disjointed and did not cause any noticeable improvement in the popularity of the show. It almost felt like two separate shows, the original Rivers of Light, and a different Disney animals themed show put together with no attempt to make them work together.

This show was unceremoniously ended following the coronavirus pandemic alongside two other Disney attractions, Stitch's Great Escape, and Primeval Whirl. In a world without night shows, it makes sense for Disney to permanently end their least popular show. They now don't need to pay to maintain it and can focus on the future of the park in other sectors.

Rivers of Light Stadium Disney's Animal Kingdom

This show was something that we almost never see from modern Disney. An original concept executed without significant usage of Disney IPs. It leaves behind a stadium in the center of the park without any show and without a chance of a new show for the foreseeable future.

Rivers of Light may not have been Disney's best nighttime show, but it was something unique with a great original score. Hopefully, it is not the last show of its kind we see at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and it will see an even better successor in the post COVID19 world someday.