19 April 2018

The First Adventure

On Sunday, April 26, 1998 viewers of The Wonderful World of Disney were treated to a special look at the world’s newest theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The episode was titled Disney’s Animal Kingdom: The First Adventure. Also, in case you were wondering, the ABC Sunday Night Movie that would follow this special was Apollo 13. Promotional materials for the show featured various photos of then Disney Chairman and CEO, Michael Eisner, and Dr. Jane Goodall in various areas of the park individually and together, but the show featured so much more than that.

The special starts, as all episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney did at the time, with Michael Eisner. He briefly speaks about Walt Disney himself, his care for animals, how that brought the company to where it was in 1998, and how the park was born from our fascination, love, and respect of animals. It then moved on to Lebo M. standing atop the roots of the Tree of Life singing a wonderful rendition of Circle of Life with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This rendition is one of two highlights from the special that you should definitely seek out. The other we'll get to at the end of this article.

From there, we descend into complete Disney/ABC shtick with the The First Adventure's host, Drew Carey. He is joined by a host of ABC personalities taking in the park. First up is Jane Seymour, James Ketch, and their family, who venture out on a safari you or I would swoon over. Their trek begins by arriving in Harambe aboard the Wildlife Express, meeting the mayor of Harambe, and then having a personal ride aboard Kilimanjaro Safaris with one of the park’s senior animal care cast member. Next up Tia, Tamera, Tahj, and Tavior Mowry make their way through DinoLand U.S.A., escorted to Countdown to Extinction by some off the wall residents of The Dino Institute. Danielle Fishel and Will Friedel welcome a newborn gorilla on Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, take in the sights of Conservation Station, and learn about Flights of Wonder. Elsewhere, Paul Rodriguez visits It’s Tough to be a Bug, entertainers perform at the entrance to Harambe, and there are segments featuring random Animal Kingdom fun facts. Kimberly Scott also makes a pair of appearances, singing We Are One (no, not that one, the one from The Lion King 2) and Circle of Life.

While there is a lot of silliness and exaggerated moments during the special, there are also some great things early views and experiences to take note for. For starters, there are clips of both the Discovery River Boats and the Audio-Animatronics figure of Aladar that once sat along the banks of the Discovery River. The more impressive thing is realizing that the park is full of vegetation that has grown into to what it is today. This means that plants are smaller, there are spaces between them, and many of the views are unobstructed.

Perhaps the most important segments of The First Adventure are the two instances where we get to spend time with Dr. Jane Goodall. In her first appearance, she is speaking to Cast Members about Gombe Stream National Park and her time with the chimpanzees there, followed quickly by her speaking about the skill behind the Animal Kingdom’s creation and what it means to the creatures who call the park home. Near the finale of the special we see Dr. Goodall again, this time with an important message that is just as pressing today, if not more so, as it was in 1998. As we close today, let me leave you with her message from 20 years ago, “All my life I’ve watched and learned from animals. Knowledge from my 38 year study of chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, has helped to blur that line that was once perceived as so sharp, dividing humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. After all, we’re not the only beings in this world with personality, rational thought, and emotions such as joy, sorrow, and despair. How tragic then, to know that the natural world is shrinking, animal species vanishing. If you too are concerned, won’t you help to join the fight to save the natural world? Not only for the animals, for the sake of our children and theirs.”

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