26 April 2009

Disney's Animal Kingdom Celebrates Opening

The opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom was covered by a horde of paper and television outlets worldwide, but perhaps none had quite the same eye for the meaning of the park’s opening as the Eyes & Ears, Walt Disney World’s Cast Member publication. The April 30, 1998 issue featured an account of the opening ceremonies by Tom Reynolds and is, perhaps, the best view of opening. With the park celebrating its eleventh anniversary this week, let us take a look back with, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebrates Opening.

“The day has finally arrived to dedicate Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and epic that has been literally… taking millions of years to accomplish.”

With these words, Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company, dedicated the fourth theme park at Walt Disney World Resort in a historic ceremony outside of the park’s main entrance.

Even though it was for a theme park about animals, the ceremony focused on people – those who made the park a reality and those who continue to bring it to life each day for the guests.

Roy E. Disney, vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company, introduced the Cast Members from Walt Disney Imagineering who designed the park, saying, “They’re the ones who transformed a pasture into a kingdom.”

In addition, Michael acknowledged the Cast Members who will work in the park to create magical experiences for guests.

“It is now my pleasure to introduce you to the people without whom we could not make our magic happen – our Cast Members,” Michael said. As he did this, a long procession of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Cast Members made its way through the aisles and eventually stopped around the large stage of performers.

He also listed, individually, the names of the 12 people on the park’s board of advisors who represent some of the leading naturalists, environmentalists and zoologists in the world. Dr. Jane Goodall, a pioneering researcher of chimpanzees, received special recognition.

Roy also spoke about the park and how its concept is rooted in the animal films that The Walt Disney Company has produced over the years. He cited examples like Bambi, The True-Life Adventure Series and The Lion King as films that have long demonstrated the company’s connection with the animal world, saying, “The Walt Disney Company owes a lot to animals.”

The ceremony itself was a colorful musical salute to animals and the people who make Disney’s Animal Kingdom possible. The stage filled with performer. Large puppets on poles were lifted over the crowd and marched down the aisles. The backdrops lifted to reveal larger-than-life images of animals staring at the crowd. Lebo M, the singer who recorded some of the songs for Walt Disney Pictures’ The Lion King, performed his rendition of “The Circle of Life.” The ceremony ended with a display of performers and Cast Members on stage as a bald eagle flew over the audience and landed in front of Michael and Roy.

The event was attended by Cast Members who work at and helped design the park, as well as by members of the media and celebrities. This marks the fourth theme park to open at the Walt Disney World Resort since the opening of the Magic Kingdom Park in 1971.

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