REVIEW: Rivers of Light Nighttime Show at Animal Kingdom Debuts; Show is Beautiful But Boring

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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.

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.

Negatives

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

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.

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]

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Natasha
Guest
Natasha

I sat on the Dinoland side of the theater where we watched a lotus crash, fairly harshly and loudly, into the Elephant float, causing it to wobble a bit. A few seconds later the show stopped. That was the reasoning for the restart according to cast members working the preview. The reasoning for the delay was because controlling the floats warrant a huge amount of careful navigating. They’re controlled remotely, where for a while the connection was spotty, making it difficult to control the propulsions of each float. That difficulty was evident tonight during the first attempt. The show is… Read more »

Eric Ford
Guest
Eric Ford

Seems odd that Fantasmic or Wishes are cited for the “wow” factor being looked for considering the park that this being held in. Maybe it’s just me but doesn’t any big show that happens in this park need to be fairly low key and devoid of any big explosions in order to accommodate the live attractions that are fairly close?

Makes sense to me that Rivers of Light seems to be an incredibly beautiful relaxing way to end a show that’s focused on nature.

Jonathon Gomez
Guest
Jonathon Gomez

I’ve seen ELO concerts that are more impressive than this and that was with 35 year old technology. Disney should stick to making rides great again.

Mind me
Guest
Mind me

Sure, CGI, leds etc. are great, but it’s all the same. And lets not forget, meant to save cost…not to wow the audience.

Anonomouse
Guest
Anonomouse

How are either of those things meant to save cost? If they’re needing an animal to do something ultra specific to fit the timing of there show, it makes more sense to use CGI and LEDs are just the standard now.

Andres
Guest
Andres

I saw it on cast preview. I couldn’t agree more with your review. No doubt, no wow moments. Some special effects, but a minimal effort to say “we have a show now at AK” is all I really “felt”. It’s really thin. Disney doesn’t create much anymore though in entertainment, just buys other companies media and creations. Last true attraction at AK was well, not under ANY of the current administration’s hands a decade ago. Avatar land was a contract for $$$, would go with low expectations, it’s told to us it got severed on budged from original plans, but… Read more »

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Disney's Animal Kingdom Rivers of Light Show. What We Know

[…] member preview of the Animal Kingdom Rivers of Light show last night and WDW News Today was there. Visit here for their review of the show (including […]

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Does no Photos, no video, and no BLOGGING mean anything anymore? This was a Cast Member Preview. WDWNT has now essentially ruined Rivers of Light for EVERYONE else who was waiting to experience it for the first time – WITHOUT having a a blog spell out everything in the show for them. I haven’t read this article because I want to experience this for the first time with no prior knowledge of the show. Cast Member previews are supposed to be special. Cast Members don’t get a lot. The pay isn’t anything to write home about, working on the holidays… Read more »

Disney Pete
Guest
Disney Pete

So now WDWNT is to blame for the huge, almost yearlong delay and at fault for the barges crashing? Rich!

Jonathon Gomez
Guest
Jonathon Gomez

Oh lighten up Francis.

The Q.
Guest
The Q.

You all keep saying “Cast Member Preview”. I am a cast member at the Grand Floridian and I desperately wanted to attend the show, BUT it was an “Animal Kingdom Cast Only Preview”. I was left out. I thought they were going to have drones carry lanterns off into the sky at the end. 0h well.

The Imagineers
Guest
The Imagineers

Yes you are correct. Originally the finale was supposed to have drones carrying off laterns. However during testing, the drones became self aware and began using the laterns to fire bomb the Imagineers working on the project. Unfortunately we were forced to disassemble them and reuse the parts for the new Starbrite Holidays Show and are now completely safe, we think. Although we know that you’re probably disappointed in our new finale, rest easy knowing that the impending robot insurrection has been prevented, for now.

yolanda
Guest
yolanda

Would be nice touch, but 1- Disney didn’t apply for drones in this area with FAA as they did other areas for MK, EP and Springs, so that may have been rumor. and 2- Sadly, it wouldn’t save the show from it’s lack of emotion. It’s more like a special effects demo IMO

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Calm down everyone, it’s a PREVIEW it’s not the polished finished product yet… I got to tour New Fantasyland 5 months before it opened because a cast member saw it was my birthday and escorted us behind the wall… not everything was complete, but it was really cool to see it in the “work in progress” stage… there was enough there to get the overall picture of how it would end up, but a BUNCH of details got added after we saw it…. I’m sure it will be a cohesive and entertaining show once it’s ready for public premiere.

Anonomouse
Guest
Anonomouse

Cast previews always come right before they open to guests. Disney doesn’t just stop what they’re working on to show the cast members a work in progress, especially in a setting where people can easily write about it.

Tom Wolf
Guest
Tom Wolf

I wonder if too much noise would frighten the animals, and that’s why it’s so mellow and lacking a big finale? The animal’s health and well-being come first there… Understandably.

Neal
Guest
Neal

Nope. It’s just Disney is becoming incredibly CHEAP. I mean, you can have emotion, writing, and a decent show to go with special effects, but that costs money. This is the final product for now kids. It’s certainly not getting a script after that 7 month delay.