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

This post may contain affiliate links; please read the disclosure for more information.

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).

IMG_6997

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…

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.
Contact Tom at [email protected]