Monday, May 12, 2014

Building a Bigger and Better Harambe

I have spent the last few episodes of Radio Harambe gushing over something which I have only seen a few incomplete glimpses of, an usually thing for a pessimist such as myself.  I usually wait to see something myself, but between the handful of photos, both official and a few from "over the walls", and the artist rendering released late last week, the “New Harambe” has me absolutely giddy to get back to Disney's Animal Kingdom.

You see, I love what Joe Rohde does for Disney, that’s not secret.  It’s because when Rohde hits his stride, he turns what he designs into a cultural window onto the far reaches of the world.  Capturing history and culture is what Rohde does best and it seems in this theater, and its surroundings, he has achieved that goal once again.

A while back, Safari Mike and I wrote extensively about the history and backstory of Harambe, the imaginary port town along the East African coast which makes up the Africa “land” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  And what we found is that even though Harambe might not be a real place in Africa, it most certainly embodies the culture and history of the country’s from which Rohde took his inspiration, specifically Kenya and Tanzania.  However, as with any big edition or change to the Disney Parks, one must worry about imagineering’s tendency to often “relax” the themes and aesthetics a bit to make the practical or profitable work.  But that tendency seems to not be present here at all.  In fact, they have even enhanced the story.

Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya
The history of the coast of East Africa is a story of a global cultural melting pot.  Fort Jesus, in the Old Port of Mombasa in Kenya, is an icon of that rich history.  King Phillip I of Portugal commissioned the building of the fort in 1598.  Over the following centuries, Fort Jesus has been under the control of not only the Portugese, but also Arab, British and Swahili forces, and all of those cultures are reflected in the site we see today.  Mombasa was one of the most important ports on the planet for centuries, and Fort Jesus has loomed over traders and immigrants from across the globe.

It is that story, that confluence of people, that made East Africa such a fascinating place to Joe Rohde.  So much so, that if you can’t see the influence Fort Jesus had on the design of the new Festival of the Lion King theater than you aren’t looking close enough.  Building a giant theater in a small coastal village was a concept we were quite worried about, but not any more.

Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya
Back in October of 2013, I wrote a post here called “Construction Walls Make Me Nervous”, about how recent changes and editions to Disney theme parks have as often been aesthetic misses than hits, how corporate synergy and cross-marketing have often turned “plussing”into “misus-ing”.  But that certainly does not seem the case here.  The “New Harambe” may, in fact, be not just a bigger but also a better Harambe.

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