This past weekend Harambe Nights made its debut at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The new hard-ticket event has been met with reviews that certainly lean towards the positive, but with a little touch of the “mixed” as well. (Unfortunately, the Disney suits did not invite any of us from the ONLY DAK podcast/website to the media preview…but I’m not bitter or anything.)
Yesterday on the Disney Parks Blog we also got a nice collection of photos from the event. Many of them are your run-of-the-mill Disney promotional images, but a few give us a real look at the Concert in the Wild. And if you are like me and probably won’t get a chance to attend, because it is very limited and was announced with such short-notice, wdwmagic.com posted a video from the entire show.
My impression of the show, albeit not from the perspective of seeing it live myself, is that it is quite something special, but perhaps could have been much more so. It is certainly an impeccably performed musical review of the The Lion King, complete with narrator, orchestra, and chorus. And let’s face it, it is also a promotion for the film’s twentieth anniversary. My big issue is the overuse of a giant video screen that plays clips from the film itself. And quite honestly, those clips take away from the live aspect of the show and really seem unnecessary. The ones that really puzzle me is when they play film clips of the songs. I mean, it is one thing to rely on the film for storytelling, but why not let the live performers handle the music more? The performers from the Festival of the Lion King show, quite frankly, do a much better job at singing than Jeremy Irons does. We have all seen the film, and a live take on it would be more interesting and certainly more special.
But the music and visuals go beyond just the Lion King film and its soundtrack, and that’s where this show really shines. There is also a wonderful collection of African music, language and culture which enhances the show and lifts the experience. And in these unique moments, the excitement and artistry are what we have come to associate with Lion King-inspired productions. A highlight for me is the use of the song “He Lives In You”, which is a fantastic and incredibly performed tune from the Broadway version. (It’s at around the 46 minute mark on the video.) Unfortunately, these unique moments are probably a bit to few and far between.
Don’t get me wrong, the Lion King is a true Disney masterpiece, and probably my favorite of the animated collection. The music, story and characters are compelling and any use of them makes for an entertaining and emotional show. So I guess I am a bit conflicted. I love the movie, but still I feel that a hard-ticket live performance needs to be less dependent on something as easy as playing clips on a large screen and reading from a twenty year old script. But I will certainly concede that the film portions may have been much more engrossing if I were actually inside the theater. And certainly, folks who love the film will appreciate seeing so much of it during an anniversary celebration.
So let’s look at the food reviews. The always hunger-enducing Disney Food Blog focuses, obviously enough, on the culinary side of the event. The event offers a rather large selection, much of which will be somewhat familiar to fans of the restaurants found in the park and the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Whether or not the event delivers the same flavor and quality as those restaurants is something of a debate between the reviewers. While the aforementioned Disney Food Blog is positive about the food, wdwmagic.com is less so. They said things like “Sadly, the food did not measure up to the supremely high standards of those restaurants” and that “after show dishes bore all the hallmarks of cafeteria type food that had been sitting around”. They came to the conclusion that this “is not an event for foodies”, which, if true, really puts the price and over all value into question.
From most accounts, the pre and post show parties are fun and well executed. I mean, how could you go wrong with Harambe at night and the Burudika Band providing the soundtrack? The atmosphere alone must be something else, and for DAK lovers this is probably worth a lot.
It is not often when I say I am sorry I am going the miss a $120 event at Disney. Those who know me will know I am not someone who drops that kind of extra money for a Disney event, but this was something different, something I was really sad I wasn’t getting to see. But to be honest, after reading a few of these reviews I am now not so sure I would drop that much money. This event was announced only a few shorts weeks before it debuted, and it does’t appear as though the folks developing it had much more time than that to work up a unique and new production. Perhaps with some logistical improvements, and a less video-reliant show, I will go back to hoping this event runs when I can attend.
by Dave McBride (@RadioHarambe)