If you’re a fan of pageantry, then you would have loved the grand opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
On April 21, 1998, a day before the park’s official opening, opening ceremonies were held. Speaking at the event were Disney CEO, Michael Eisner, and vice chairman, Roy E. Disney. They were joined by a crowd of Cast Members, celebrities, media, and zoological professionals from around the world. Dr. Jane Goodall, who had been an instrumental part of the park’s creation, received special recognition.
As they spoke, Michael and Roy did their best to convey what Disney’s Animal Kingdom was and where it had come from. In their speeches, however, they did not forget the hard work that went into the park’s creation and the dedicated Cast Members that were to make each day an incredible experience for all guests. The Cast Members were even given their own procession through the crowds to acknowledge their place in the park.
Michael spoke about the amazing advisory board that had been assembled for the park’s creation, while Roy Disney elaborated on the history and bond between Disney and animals over the years. While there is no doubt that the park, just as all parks, would change over time, Roy put a finer point on the issue, saying, “Disney’s Animal Kingdom, like the animal world itself, will evolve and grow. It’s truly a living thing.”
Then, of course, the show really got going. The music began to rise and performers began to fill the stage. Larger than life puppets, like those seen in Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade or in Broadway productions of The Lion King, filled the aisles and were lifted into the sky. The plain backdrop was lifted to reveal gigantic animal paintings staring out at the audience. Singer Lebo M. began to sing his rendition of “The Circle of Life.” As the song came to a close, a bald eagle flew low over the crowd and landed on stage in between Roy and Michael.
It’s a shame that the opening ceremony was not open to the public, as it was clearly an affair to be witnessed. That said, however, the event highlighted what is truly to be celebrated in the world and can still be celebrated each day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, our connection to the animal world and the hard work and dedication needed to maintain such a bond.