05 June 2008


Thirteen years ago today, at 10:00am, Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom was announced. As Michael Eisner stated on that day, “This is to the traditional zoo as the motion picture was to the stage play.” He continued with some of the most poignant words on the story of Disney’s Animal Kingdom to ever be uttered, these words are just as relevant today, “The need for awareness of endangered animals and their environments has never been greater. We are in a unique position to promote a deeper understanding and love for all animals.”
This unique position was Disney ability to reach out the broader public base that they already possessed. This tangible base, even at its inception, would be well beyond the size that any other zoological association could reach. Yet, Disney did not possess the skill set need to operate a zoo, nontraditional or otherwise. To assist Disney’s Imagineers the Advisory Board, eleven professionals with specific knowledge ranging from conservation to zoo operations to the treatment of animals, was assembled. From their first meeting in January of 1993, the Advisory Board would seek to mesh the blue sky ideals of Walt Disney Imagineering with the most stringent of standards needed to maintain finest quality of animal care.
Though it would be the largest Disney theme park ever built, it would take a full two months, from the June 1995 announcement, until ground was even broken on the project. From that groundbreaking in August 1995, the form of Disney’s Animal Kingdom would continually be shaped, remolded, retooled, touched-up, fine tuned, and finessed until opening day. On 22 April 1998, Earth Day, the world would gain its first glimpse at the first incarnation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The on site work included moving 4,400,000 cubic feet of dirt and 15,000,000 gallons of water (per day), completing 1,000,000 square feet of rockwork, wiring 2,500 miles of cable, affixing 102,583 leaves to the Tree of Life, and installing over 4,000,000 plants. And all of this work could not have been completed without the 7,000 construction drawings completed by Walt Disney Imagineering. So, it is only fitting that Disney’s Animal Kingdoms Executive Designer, Joe Rohde, be given the last word today:
“And this big document basically was presented to the company saying, ‘you don’t want to do this. There’s zoos all over the country, you know, people pay fifteen bucks to go in, they’re all subsidized by governments, they’re subsidized by volunteer labor,’ a million reasons why this isn’t a good idea. So all of this was already in place the first morning any of us sat down to think about Animal Kingdom. But they did us the great favor of presenting us with this giant 400 page document. Which basically described, okay, you know, if you don’t do this, then you might be able to do something. So we set about really from the very beginning to make sure that what we were describing, what we were talking about doing, would sort of veer off sideways from everything that was described in this giant document they so obligingly gave us to read.”

For further information on the work that went into creating Disney's Animal Kingdom, I recommend The Making of Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park by Melody Malmberg, Since the World Began by Jeff Kurtti, and The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Animal Kingdom.


Princess Fee said...

Another interesting and fantastic post, Ryan. I love learning about Animal Kingdom, as it is the one park that I have the least knowledge about.

I do have the Imagineering Field Guide to get me started though, so looking forward to reading that one!

The Viewliner Limited said...

Wonderful post Ryan. Insight into things I know nothing about, is always refreshing. Thank you, Richard