Rivers of Light Debuts at Animal Kingdom
It's been a LONG road to finally get to the debut of Rivers of Light. Originally slated to launch in Spring 2016 (and dining packages already purchased), the show was shelved amid rumors of technical difficulties. But a massive "Awaken Summer" media campaign was underway which included the debut of nighttime hours and activities at Animal Kingdom. So Disney rallied. They capitalized on the unanticipated success of The Jungle Book and rushed forward a new nighttime production to get Animal Kingdom through the hot summer nights.
Jungle Book:Alive with Magic got a mixed reception. Not from us. Our family loved this show. It was our favorite nighttime offering of any park. We loved the dancing, the music, the live singing, the storyline, the audience engagement, all of it. Primary complaints about this show were the water projections, which we agreed were pretty muddled, but we never felt like the projections were why we were watching the show. We said tearful goodbyes to JBAWM last fall and geared up for Rivers of Light to finally take its rightful place.
My family was invited to the official debut of Rivers of Light on February 17th by Disney's media outreach. We were given reserved seats and some cookies (tickets were provided but not needed with our Annual Passes).
I'd heard so many mixed things leading up to this night about Rivers of Light. Obviously, with the extensive delays, skepticism was high. Some people had seen soft openings and cast debuts, and the reactions seemed to run the gamut. I was predisposed to love it; from the first moment I enter Animal Kingdom, I feel this soothing calm vibe that reminds me why I love this park so much. We arrived early enough to enjoy a dusk Kilimanjaro Safari and grab some noms before reporting to our reserved seats 30 minutes from show start.
I really enjoyed sitting in the theater (it's a 5K seat amphitheater near Finding Nemo's theater, same used for JBAWM) as the sun set. I'm obsessed with the nighttime lighting of the Tree of Life.
Ahead of show start, the water slowly starts showing signs of life. Animal sounds start emerging from the forest, fireflies and other animal light projections make fleeting appearances in the distance.
And the 4 main lotus flower floats begin a tranquil, glowing meander around the water in front of the theater.
The show begins with some instrumental music as the "Storyteller" floats arrive: one storyteller boat for each half of the amphitheater representing a light and water storyline. These floats are absolutely spectacular with their lanterns and shadow projections. The storytellers do a dance to "summon the animal spirit" floats (a Tiger, a Turtle, an Elephant, and an Owl).
The Lotus floats open up and have their animated water fountain thing going on. Each Lotus also has its own water projection system, in addition to the main projectors from JBAWM. However, the imagery in the projections is much sharper and clearer, which should silence any critics of this system from last year.
The main musical piece, "We Are One," was written by Mark Mancina of Moana fame. The video projections were shot by DisneyNature and feature some never-before-seen moments from the films.
For the finale one of the Lotus floats goes flame-y in the center, the music crescendos, and the show ends.
It feels like a blink, honestly. It felt so short. It's 15 minutes. And the finale? Doesn't feel super... finale-y. I don't know what I was expecting. Keep in mind, we're the 2 people who loved JBAWM, so my opinion is just that.
Speaking of my opinion: It's visually spectacular. Both stimulating and soothing at the same time. The "narrative" that's described in the press release is sort of hard to grasp from being an audience member. My husband and I both wish they'd take the floats and projections from this and combine it with the music and dancing from JBAWM to make the ultimate show. All that said almost everyone I have spoken to that didn't like JBAWM loves Rivers of Light. The common thread seems to be if you're a lover of Illuminations, then Rivers of Light is right up your alley. More of a Fantasmic or JBAWM fan? This might feel underwhelming to you.
Regardless, I encourage you to check it out for yourself and form your own opinion. And do it soon, because Pandora will be opening in May and Animal Kingdom will probably be packed this summer as people come to check it out. Disney is offering reserved seating Rivers of Light dining packages that you can do for lunch or dinner at Tusker House OR Tiffins (these are both great places!).