Rivers of Light had its first Cast Member preview this evening at Disney’s Animal Kingdom…. seven months after its original premiere date of 4/22/2016. While we have been waiting a little over seven months, the team has been working hard on tweaking the show and making sure it lives up to the expert design level of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park and the upcoming AVATAR expansion.
This review will go into detail about the entire Rivers of Light show. If you wish to remain unspoiled and potentially excited, turn back now.
Tonight we were treated to a unique water pageant that’s a major upgrade to its 1971 predecessor that still travels on Seven Seas Lagoon. Rivers of Light begins quietly: Projections lighting the trees among Flame Tree Barbecue’s shore, laser projections of fireflies across the lagoon, shadows of animals going by every now and then. The lights dim and a stick of lanterns is guided down both sides of the stadium by themed dancers. Four small lotus floats gather in the water, alive with light and fireflies. The dancers are then greeted by the Shaman Storytellers midway, who ignite the celebration and make their way to their boats on either side of the viewing areas.
The boats make their way forward in the water, the Shaman and their sidekick cast animal shadows and start to tell their story on the sail of the boat, a very cool and unique projection effect. This is when the main four animal floats join the party: A turtle, an owl, a tiger, and an elephant. These animals dance with the lotus floats already in place, the lotus open up and start using their water jets in a very familiar dancing pattern. Fans of World of Color will recognize this technology, but that doesn’t change how cool this looks. The colors are changing and moving with the music. The gigantic water screens emerge, as previously seen in Jungle Book Alive with Magic, and we begin the journey on the Rivers of Light.
This entire first portion is gorgeous, beautiful, and masterfully done. Unfortunately it lasts over 10 minutes and drags on a bit. This is particularly bad because of the pacing of the next section.
At this point the main large lotus float joins the fun, sets itself right in the middle and opens up. The gigantic water screen starts showing Disney Nature animal footage and the small lotus floats join in with their own small water screens and projectors. Together, the entire river comes alive but it also becomes apparent that there’s one trick in this show and it can’t possibly last another 10 minutes.
The show abruptly continues to a tiger section, which is continued with images of primates kissing and a few CGI frogs, bears, and some rain. The Shaman boats float around the action currently happening, making low viewing not an option.
The floats join together to cast the animals to the stars, a form of constellation, and the main large lotus opens and propels the large metal ladder upward…which, according to concept art, should have fire. There was no fire the entire show. The ladder raises, the water pulses, the music climaxes and lights go out. Lights return for applause and the boats scurry off to their home.
And that’s it. There’s a lot of problems with the show, but let’s talk about the positives.
It’s technically an amazing show. We’ve never seen something quite like this, and it wows for the first part of the show. The LEDs across the floats are expertly timed and wonderful to gaze at. There’s certain points where too much is going on to fully accept what is happening. Multiple laser effects are great to view, as are the spotlights across the lagoon. Disney brought out their best with the production of the performance, and it really shows.
There’s no wow moment. The technology is wonderful, but it really doesn’t ever create that “goosebumps” moment that Disneyland Forever or Fantasmic or Wishes has, it doesn’t have the heart needed for a Disney park. There’s also nothing relatable to the audience, so much that the theater Cast know they need to do something to hold attention and start clapping with the music to get guests engaged, multiple times. There is no closing moment to the show, very similar to how Jungle Book: Alive with Magic ended…. people just didn’t know how or when to react.
Overall, this is NOT a nightcap to your day at Animal Kingdom. We’re still not 100% sure on calling it a nighttime spectacular, but it’s definitely something… just not sure if that something warranted a seven month delay. We went in with low expectations and were blown away by the technology used, but were left wanting more by the finale.
With that being said, the show started with a hiccup requiring a show restart right about when the gigantic water screens started (We’ve since been told that was due to a near float collision). Once it started again, the show went through perfectly without any issues. We were also told this is a Show/Experience/Creative rehearsal and we would be asked for feedback at the end of the show while walking out, which did not happen. What we witnessed may not be the final Rivers of Light show, and we are anxiously hoping this was not the final show. This belongs at Sea World as of right now, not at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.