REVIEW: “Jungle Book – Alive With Magic” Disappoints, Big Problems Lie Ahead

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When Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom was indefinitely delayed (at least until the Fall at this point), Walt Disney World found themselves in a tremendous predicament. They had announced there would be a brand new nighttime show for the park, in fact its very first, and developed an entire nighttime entertainment roster around it. So, when the headlining act goes down, what do you do?

"Rivers of Light,"the majestic nighttime jewel, coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom creates an illuminating musical experience for guests. Currently in development with a premiere date to be announced soon, "Rivers of Light" will celebrate the magic of animals, humans and the natural world with a blend of performers, floating lanterns and theatrical animal imagery. (David Roark, photographer)

If it were a concert, I’m sure you realize that the opening act is no real replacement for the headliner, but maybe someone can fill in? That’s essentially what happened here. Rather than give up on the Summer, Walt Disney World realized they had a perfectly good, new nighttime show venue in the Discovery River Theater and still had a tremendous line-up including nighttime safaris, Tree of Life Awakenings, a brand new signature restaurant, and lots of atmospheric entertainment. Why not put something temporarily in the theater as a replacement offering? The park’s first late-evenings would be saved and all of the dining packages and such Disney had their hearts on could still be sold. Could it be done in just 41 days?

In a little over a month, Walt Disney World and Disney Imagineers put together a show called The Jungle Book – Alive with Magic, which promised to use nighttime lighting effects created for Rivers of Light and blend them with some sort of live entertainment. In a short preview of Rivers of Light given to media back in April, we saw that many effects from that show could still operate, so maybe the working effects combined with good music and a solid entertainment act could create something worth seeing. I’m sure it could have, but that didn’t happen.

"The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic," a new live musical show inspired by the blockbuster live-action film "The Jungle Book," kicks off new nighttime experiences at Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The epic, limited-engagement celebration immerses guests in Indian culture with live performers, music, water screens and vibrant costumes amidst the beauty and danger of the jungle. (Preston Mack, photographer)

The best description I can give for this show is it is essentially Glow Fest on water. Glow Fest was a short-lived event at California Adventure which included a Bollywood-style dancing act on a stage in the evenings. Jungle Book – Alive with Magic was basically this act presented on barges with a half-functioning giant mist screen behind it. The show has music from The Jungle Book infused with an Indian influence playing as choreographed dance takes place on stages and barges (and even in the aisles) around the theater, but that’s pretty much all that happens. There are none of the “wow” moments of grandeur or technical effects that you would find in IllumiNations, Fantasmic, or even Wishes for that matter, something that has categorized every nighttime spectacular in the history of Disney Parks, even the worst ones.

Now, before I get any hate mail from anyone involved in this thing, let me talk about the positives (which surprisingly there are): the performers are very talented, the soundtrack is good, the live singing is a nice touch, and the choreography is enjoyable. This isn’t a bad show, it’s a bad show to put in this situation. If it was 4:00PM and I’m between FastPasses and I’m walking by this theater and this was performing during the day (with little to no advertisement other than a mention in the times guide perhaps), I would love to sit and watch this. As unscheduled atmospheric entertainment for this park, this show would be the absolute best they have to offer. However, it is being marketed as a nighttime spectacular, they are selling rushed merchandise for it, they are distributing FastPasses, and there is a very pricey dining package being offered.

Imagine if you bought a Fantasmic dining package and then went to the theater to find the Dapper Dans performing in the giant Hollywood Hills Amphitheater. Sure, Disney had added some fountains to the Dapper Dan’s show, but this isn’t worth what you spent on your dining package, no matter how much you might love this act. It isn’t a spectacle worth spending money to have reserved seating for. That’s the problem with Jungle Book – Alive with Magic; it isn’t worth a FastPass, it isn’t worth sitting there for any amount of time while you wait for it to start, and it for damn sure isn’t worth the price of an expensive dining package, even if they sit you on the barges in the river… OK, that might actually be kind of cool, but you get my point.

Tiffins is a spectacular restaurant (review to come) and I have no problem with the great buffet at Tusker House, but that isn’t going to resolve any cheated feelings guests are going to have walking out of this show. Last night alone, I encountered at least two dozen guests who were less-than-enchanted with what they had just waited an hour for, most of which were those with small children. I’ve sat with kids for an hour until Fantasmic! has started and that can be rough, but there is a payoff. Fantasmic is a wonderful spectacle and typically, watching a child take-in that 27-minutes of color and explosions is worth all of the stress and time-investment that you put into it, and that’s why people keep going back. At Jungle Book – Alive with Magic, children looked the same as I did: confused.

With the dining packages starting tonight, I am anxious to see what happens. I will be seated in that reserved dining viewing section as I have my reservation at Tiffins later today and I will give this show another chance to “wow” me, but based on my first viewing and the reviews of countless other who I asked about the show last night, I doubt very much that I will feel like I got my money’s worth out of that dining package, just as I felt like I had wasted time and a FastPass seeing this show last night. Standing in front of the Tree of Life and watching the awakenings projection shows would have been a far better investment of my time and energy. But I am anxious to witness the response of less-informed guests in that viewing area, who paid over $50 a person to see this show from a premium viewing area. There may very well be a riot (or at least a Light Magic style guest march to guest relations). These packages are being offered through September… is this going to continue to be offered through then if guests complain nightly in droves? I can’t imagine a scenario where wither the show or the package both continue to exist until then.

In short, this isn’t worth your time. Skip Jungle Book – Alive with Magic (but not Tiffins, you should still eat there regardless) and enjoy a nighttime safari, take in the splendor of the Tree of Life at night, or just ride Expedition Everest under the moonlight. Animal Kingdom is beautiful at night, don’t cancel your trip to the park just because of this show, just don’t make this show a priority unless you feel you absolutely must see it for some reason (like you really, really love this style of music and dancing).

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If you do want to still see it, all you need to really know is that FastPass seating enters on the Expedition Everest side while Standby is located on the Theater in the Wild side. I wouldn’t worry about showing up too early… Showtimes are nightly at 9:00PM and 10:30PM.

The clock is now ticking on Summer 2016 and I anxiously wait a debut date on Rivers of Light. It has to be better than this Discovery River Disaster…

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About the author

Tom Corless

Tom has been regularly visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort from the time he was 4 months old. While he has made countless visits in the last 28 years, he did not become a truly active member in the Disney fan community until the summer of 2007, when he decided to launch the WDW News Today website and podcast. Tom has since become an Orlando-local and is a published author on Walt Disney World.

24 Comments

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  • That is a shame. I don’t blame Disney too much for thus as I am sure they tried their best to put something together in 41 days. And I can see why they are promoting it as you say they are to save face. It sucks, but I guess I will judge for myself when I see it

    • They didn’t do their best. I don’t mean to sound bitter, and maybe this is unprofessional, but I really don’t care at this point. When the Rivers Of Light stuff went sideways, I had a pitch for them, but they wouldn’t listen. I don’t mean to sound like I’m full of myself, but the group of performers I was working with could’ve saved this summer for AK, but apparently Disney refuses to listen to contractors in this situation.

  • I’ve always been told that the reason for not having night time activities in Animal Kingdom was because it would disturb the animals.
    What pray tell changed their minds? {$$$$$}

  • Tom you nailed this review. You could not have said it more eloquently. It is nice to see a Disney Blog that can actually leave an honest review. There were some nice parts to it, but it is not worth seeing again. It would be a great show in the middle of the day to relax and get off your feet. There were a lot of parents leaving because there children were not entertained at all. There is little actual Disney Characters in this. If you like Bollywood dancing shows this is for you. Disney really ought be ashamed of themselves for throwing this out there. Disney we would rather wait for Rivers of Light when it is ready. The Tree of Life Awakening was very good though.

  • Unfortunately this is just another Disney cash grab. I understand there would have been guests upset that Rivers of Light wasn’t ready but I feel they’ll be even more upset after seeing this.

  • This review is perfect. The performers were great but the show was just not good. my two girls were wanting to leave after only a few minutes. The performers were in the middle and we didn’t realize someone was actually singing until half way threw

  • Tom, Don’t be apologetic for an honest review. It’s very refreshing, and why I personally read all these on the various sites.
    I’ve been around the Disney “block” enough to know when reviewers and guests are just spouting “stuff” to fill space, not wanting to offend whomever. I just shake my head and move on. Hopefully, Disney will get it right over time. I have confidence they will!!!!!

  • Agree this show is not worth a fast pass or a second visit. Certainly looked as if it had been put together in a hurry, think i can honestly say it was the most boring show I’ve seen.

  • Just a quick thought on the dinner package for the show. I think value wise it is worth it if you are dining Tiffins. If you plan on doing an app, entree and dessert you actually save a bit of money plus get priority seating at the show.

  • Disagree with the review. I thought the show was excellent. My kids loved it. Then again we are Indian-American. The major problems I had with the movie not being authentic to the culture was cured more so with this show. There were actual authentic Indian elements to the show. I was so happy to see Disney, a major company each beyond the watered down cultural shoes they usually put on to have something that has some substance.

    For color and enrichment of culture it was fantastic. The dance went beyond Bollywood. There was traditional classical dances and fill dances from different regions. It was a feast for the eyes.

    The disappointment was the water screen. The sound for discovery river was not quite right I thought.

    I would tell anyone wanting to see this show to be familiar with the movie. Also try to see if you can learn about Indian dances

    https://youtu.be/Bid9-wdTzWI

    It’s great for kids to understand. Imagine seeing elements of tap, ballet, swing and ballroom dancing in a show. If you don’t know it’s there you miss a huge element.

    My kids were able to see the various elements which made me happy.

    Overall because this is a departure from the typical Disney show I would recommend it.

  • Please bear in mind that we are seeing a situation VERY similar, if not a bit different to what happened at Epcot in 1996. In that scenario, Horizons was having troubles, World of Motion was closed to become Test Track, and Universe of Energy was be refurbished into Ellen’s Energy Adventure. However, while the Energy pavilion itself was ready for the new attraction – the films were not ready, so for the summer they had to rush to get a watered down version of the original Universe of Energy attraction up and running. In the end, by September 1996, everything was all ready, and Ellen’s Energy Adventure officially opened on the 15th. In turn, what happened here was Rivers of Light was having technical problems, even though everything was all ready for its original debut, so they had to rush to get something for the summer, and this is the mess we have now. Hopefully, by the fall, we should have Rivers of Light ready, problem free! See what I’m saying?

  • After waiting over 2 hours for the show to start and standing in line before. we found it very disappointing not up to Disney best, music and performance very amateur. Water show was poor and we could not make anything out , just a couple of jungle book songs in to make it not a complete waste of time.

  • We waited for over an hour on Sunday night to catch the 10:30 show. I really wish I had seen this review prior to doing that. I agree, if this was a daytime show, I wouldn’t complain. But we waited a really long time to see this when we could have been doing something more productive with our time. The dancers and singers were very talented and this isn’t a slight to them. I was entertained. But not equal to the hour in the lightening and on and off rain showers we endured to see it. I guess if you really like The Jungle Book you might be in to it. The girl next to me, in her mid-teens was dancing and singing and a mother an son in front of me were also singing all the songs. However, they were in the minority. I have a feeling Disney knows people aren’t impressed. As we exited the theater, I heard one cast member tell another to keep their eyes on the crowd’s faces and listen to their reactions as we passed by.

  • One thing about the dining packages. I don’t know about Tusker House, but if you take the Tiffins package, $69 for an appetizer, entree, dessert, and drink can actually be a discount. According to Josh at easywdw, you can save almost 25% off your dinner if you order the right things.

  • Totally Agree with the review
    We FP last Wed 9pm show got there only 15 min before so had to sit Row 2 , definitely need to sit up higher for this show and towards the main stage.
    They lost me as soon as the show started and the speakers started making a popping hissing sound, this is Disney the Sound Lights Action is always the best quality, but not this show.
    The water screen projections were so poor. If you had never experienced Illuminations, Fantasmic, World of Color , you might think oh that’s just how it is but these are horrible
    I suggested to my daughter that we needed to get her mom who couldn’t make it over soon as they might pull the plug on this stinker
    All the great singing , dancing drumming can’t make up for a poor production, Disney you know better

  • I was so disappointed in the Jungle Book show and thrilled I didn’t buy a dinner package (and will eat at Tiffin’s separately). The show missed the number one important Disney rule: TELL A STORY. The show was nothing but random dancing (hard to see in the dark and as I was seated all the way in the back, the dancers were “tiny”), along with blurry scenes from the Jungle Book movie. Thank goodness I had seen the movie a few days earlier, because I would have had no idea what I was looking at. My husband had not seen the movie and was totally lost – the images and sounds meant nothing to him. It would not have been hard to TELL THE STORY – simple narration of the story of the Jungle Book to match the dancers and the movie scenes and songs would have made all the difference in the world. I realize they probably couldn’t get Ben Kingsley on short notice, but a voice introduced as Bagheera who told the story around the visual displays would have made the show tolerable. As it exists now, don’t waste one second standing in line or sitting on the hard seats or waiting. The visuals were incredibly poor, the sound was bad, the lighting was barely OK. The show is random, boring, and you keep waiting for something better to happen and it never does. As we exited the theater, a man in front of us said to his wife: “I can’t believe they made us stand in line forever to sit through that random bunch of inexplicable crap!” — says it all.

  • […] ‘The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic’ Debuts May 28 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – It’s got to be tough to make a temporary show that’s good enough that people want to see it, but it’s not so good that people aren’t going up in arms when its removed. Denise from Mouse Steps thought the show lacked some of the grandeur of other night time shows at Disney World. WDW News Today suggests you just skip it all together.. […]