“Beastly Kingdom” – A Look at What Pandora Could Have Been! 

by: guide4wdw – Collin

Have you ever noticed something strikingly unique about Animal Kingdom’s logo at Walt Disney World? If you haven’t found it before, take a look at the image below and see what you find “hidden” in plain sight:

(photo: diszine.com)
Did you find it? If not, look front and center in the line of animals stretching across the design. They all seem to fit with a certain attraction found throughout the park, with the exception of one. Right in the middle of the logo is a dragon, and there’s no doubting that it is in fact a dragon! 

Even Michael Eisner’s dedication of the park on opening day (April 22nd – ‘Earth Day’) mentioned dragons! 

 “Welcome to a kingdom of animals… real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.

For years I never took the time to recognize this simple aspect of the design as I toured the park time after time. While this could appear to have simply been a design choice if you’re looking from an outside perspective, if you take a look back in Disney’s vast history the reasoning behind the dragon becomes quite apparent.

In the early days of Animal Kingdom’s development (late 1990’s), A concept was developed for a mythical land called “Beastly Kingdom.” Unfortunately, the land was never built and only a few minor design characteristics arrived at the park on opening day in 1998.       

The concept, which was grand in scale, would feature an attraction known as Quest of the Unicorn, one called Fantasia Gardens, and a main “E-ticket” attraction called Dragon’s Tower. Each of these attractions were set to focus on an aspect of “nature” that was essentially imaginary and “impossible” in real life. Quest of the Unicorn was going to be an elaborate maze which focused on a mythological setting of twists and turns leading guests to a unicorn at the end of the attraction. Fantasia Gardens, a similar ride concept to what has become known as a the classic Disney dark ride design, was imagined up to lead guests through the world of Disney’s legendary Fantasia, complete with dancing hippos, pegasus, elephants, and much more to develop a musical tale for guests of all ages to enjoy. 

The most anticipated attraction was what became known as the Dragon’s Tower. As the expected “E-ticket” (or essentially most popular in today’s terms) attraction of the area, it would be a daring rollercoaster type of experience where guests would come face to face with a larger that life fire breathing dragon, race through the castle domain, and enter a quest to protect the treasure within the castle ruins! Along the way, the guests train would reach speeds of near 50 miles per hour and encounter thrills across a series of twists and turns! For many, this was the attraction they wanted to see develop the most! 

While the overall area was a “battle” between good and evil, the conceptual design was initially dropped due to rumored budget constraints in the Animal Kingdom development. However, for many years, it is believed that the project was simply put on hold. In the mean time, Camp Minnie Mickey was established and became home to experiences such as Festival of the Lion King (which has now relocated) and multiple character meet and greet locations. (photo: themparktourist) 

Unfortunately, the project was ultimately accepted as abandoned after several years of Camp Minnie Mickey continued. In Spring 2011, Bob Iger (CEO of Disney) began talks of partnering with James Cameron to develop a land based on one of his films which later developed into Pandora – The World of Avatar (set to debut in the next few months). Sadly, even in as early as 2000 a key creator of Animal Kingdom, Imagineer Joe Rohde, remarked: 

“We had a vision and now it’s become a placeholder. We have all kinds of ideas and not all of them fit with the theme of Beastly Kingdom. I’m not even convinced there will be a Beastly Kingdom.”

However, in typical Disney fashion, a good idea never truly dies in the world of Imagineering. It may be years before pieces of the concept may develop or they may never see the light of day. The second of those two options is probably the more likely, but there’s no telling what the future holds for Disney’s theme parks. What we do know for sure though is the space initially set for the land is no longer available, but a new experience will soon debut that will transform the Animal Kingdom experience. Pandora will change the way we view the park and that should be something outstanding to experience in the coming months. As is typical with these type of posts from us, while these experiences aren’t likely to develop, it’s interesting to see what truly “could have been.” It brings a better understanding to the overall Disney experiences and helps you appreciate the years of dedication many of these unique projects take to create. 

Next time you’re at Animal Kingdom, look for some of the subtle nods to this never developed aspect of the park and be sure to share what you’ve learned with friends! If you liked this short little post about what “could have been” be sure to like our post on Facebook and share the article on social media! Thanks!   

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