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REVIEW: Rivers of Light Debuts at Disney’s Animal Kingdom; The Good & The Bad of Delayed Nighttime Spectacular

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom finally performed for the public on February 10th, 2017 after 10 months of delays. So, how was it?

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Our guest review from the cast member previews rings true, but I think that a fair amount of you reading this will find Rivers of Light at least somewhat enjoyable. There is some brilliant technology and fun music, but the whole thing sort of falls apart in the second half and the show indeed lacks a big finale like every other nighttime show at Disney Parks. If you have never seen World of Color at Disney’s California Adventure, a lot of the technology in this show should be new to you, making for some true “wow” moments. There are scenes of brilliance that make the show worth at least one watch for any guest, but it will probably lack the repeatability of many other nighttime spectaculars, at least in its current form.

The pre-show is fantastic, yet subtle. The lotus blossoms slowly roll in once the Tree of Life illuminates about 15 minutes before showtime, and the trees in the background of the show slowly come to life. Every now and then, one of the animals from the lantern floats makes it way through the background projections in shadow form, a brilliant and subtle foreshadowing of what is to come.

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The show starts and the opening is everything I could have ever wanted the show to be. The entire theater quickly comes to life in a celebratory atmosphere for the arrival of the animal floats. The entrance of the animal lantern floats is beyond magnificent, and the way they exit this scene is even more inventive. The portion that follows with the lotus blossoms shooting water into the air is also fun, but then all of that stops.


Despite the “We Are One” song being fantastic (it’s going to be one off those catchy Disney songs that stays with you forever), the show loses its narrative and completely falls apart at this point. It sort of turns into an animal clip show on the projection mist screens, followed by a finale that lacks absolutely any bigger effects than the rest of the show. The big payoff piece in the large lotus blossom (featuring a fire effect) just isn’t impressive and leaves guests wondering if the show is actually over. The second half of this show is such a shame, especially after the artful execution of the first half. This is where you can tell something is missing and also that the show was hacked to death creatively over time.

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The good news is given the nature of these shows, fixing it or adding new segments is fairly simple. Rivers of Light in its current form is a solid foundation that I do not doubt can grow over time into something just as epic and powerful as any other nighttime show.

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Rivers of Light isn’t perfect, but I don’t think it’s a waste of your time either. A dining package may be a little overkill, but I would recommend a FastPass+ reservation. With the nature of the soft opening, I am not quite willing to provide any strategies for seeing the show just yet, but I will write up a separate post once I have tried a few different ways of viewing it and have seen it from a wide array of vantage points.

Rivers of Light from WDWNTube on Vimeo.

In the meantime, preview shows are taking place on a regular basis between now and the official debut February 17th, so be sure to check in the morning around 9am if you’re looking for a FastPass+ for one of these early showings.

Special thanks to Josh of EasyWDW.com for the use of his photos.

  1. Such beautiful photos! Can’t wait to see this show when we go after Thanksgiving! Could I ask what camera settings you used?

  2. I’ve watched videos of the whole show (including the 15 minute pre-show) but have not seen Rivers of Light yet in person. Like all of the commenters of the videos, I think that the show looks great. Tom has a problem with the narrative and the finale. I don’t know of any Disney nighttime show that has a cohesive narrative throughout. And the applause and whooping at the end from the audience seems to indicate that they were satisfied with the finale. Everyone’s opinion is valid for them (even yours Tom), but I think that a majority of viewers will like Rivers of Light as it is now.

  3. I suspect that visitors who are used to big firework finishes will be somewhat disappointed at the more subtle nature of the show. But the noise would scare the animals and that is what the park is all about.

  4. I saw the show last night, day 2, and I agree with the author’s observations. Curiously, Saturday’s show was interrupted with a technical glitch — a complete, abrupt stoppage — about 1/3 of the way through, and after a half-hour delay, it restarted from the beginning. That first 1/3 was nothing short of magical. It was hauntingly beautiful and Zen-like, perfectly in keeping with the aura of Animal Kingdom. The final 2/3 was visual and musical overload in serious need of editing and simplifying. It struck me as “design by committee”, as though far too many decision-makers had thrown in every bell and whistle they could think of. The result was just waaay too much of everything, a crowded display of stimulation that lacked, for me, a pleasing, simple and cohesive arc of story, message, and beginning/middle/end. I hope Disney can fix it; in its current form, it’s simply not ready.

  5. A let down in my opinion. First–and worst–are the amphitheaters. You sit on hard wooden benches prone to splinters, with no backs, and too close to those in front and back. You practically have to turn sideways to avoid getting kneed from the back or hitting the person in front of you. Shame on Disney for not allowing some breathing space when you have to wait over an hour to see the show. Second, I found the show underwhelming. Lighted oversized lotus flowers floated around aimlessly for 10 minutes at the beginning. Huh? The coolest elements were the projections on the trees of animal shadows, laser lightning bugs, and some of the almost 3D video on water spray. But to get a story out of any of this was beyond me. Thus, you watch floating multi-colored “animals” which initially held some wonder but mostly you wonder why one of the boats seemed to be in the middle of the water sprays and the one stayed across the lagoon and dry. “Rivers of Light” should have had pulsating lights under the water which rushed toward the water spray and up into the air to become a bird or something. It should have had some of the twinkling snow laser effects like those at Hollywood Studios. It should have held my interest to take my mind off of the seating conditions. Hard to believe this has taken a year to get working properly. Speaking as a local with experience all all the local parks, I’m sorry but this is not Disney’s best work.

  6. Overall underwhelming and boring and I think the crowd felt the same way judging from the tepid applause. A few very fine effects but the bean counters are clearly preventing Disney from doing anything spectacular at the American parks. And yes, the amphitheater is terrible seating. The boats with performers are ill positioned for the audience to see them singing and gesturing and I doubt anyone in the theater had any idea of what was going on other than a generic idea of living in harmony with nature or something.

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