Walt Disney World’s highest rated live show has returned to Disney’s Animal Kingdom after more than a year’s hiatus, and the Unofficial Guide has taken an in-depth look at the new socially distanced Celebration of Festival of The Lion King to tell you if it was worth the wait.
When Walt Disney World first reopened after the 2020 pandemic lockdown, live entertainment largely remained dark throughout the resort. In the months since, a few stage attractions — such as the Frozen sing-along in Disney’s Hollywood Studios — have returned, but until now all the large-cast musicals have stayed closed.
That all changed in early May 2021, when A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King — which was scheduled to debut on May 15 — unexpectedly opened almost a week early. We caught one of these preview performances, and captured a complete video of the entire performance which you can watch below:
Now that you’ve seen A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King for yourself, here’s the Unofficial Guide’s breakdown of the changes to this modified production.
As before, the show begins with the four lead singers introducing themselves to the audience. However, the entire audience participation segment in which guests are encouraged to make animal noises is eliminated.
The opening musical number and appearance of the parade floats is mostly intact, but you will notice that there are fewer performers, and the choreography is much more limited.
The biggest blow to the show comes with Hakuna Matata, because the tumblemonkey acrobats that were the show’s highlight have been completely eliminated. This segment is significantly shorter, and parts of Timon’s dialogue with the monkeys is still played, which doesn’t make much sense.
Thankfully, the talented fire dancer still performs his entire routine during Be Prepared, making this segment the closest in spirit to the full Festival production.
Can You Feel the Love Tonight has become another low point in the show with the elimination of the high-flying aerial stunts. Instead, the two dancers in bird costumes simply pirouette around opposite sides of the the stage, doing what looks more like a ballet class warmup routine than professional choreography.
It’s always inspiring to hear Circle of Life sung live, but the static choreographic patterns sap the energy out of what was formerly a climactic moment.
Audience participation has also been downgraded during The Lion Sings Tonight, as guests are now encouraged to clap and wave their hands instead of singing the iconic wimowehs. Children are also no longer allowed to leave their seats and parade around the theater.
Finally, the grand finale reprise feels a bit flat, thanks to severely restricted choreography and a reduction of the cast size.
The bottom line is that, although we’re very happy to see the Festival of The Lion King cast and crew back at work, this Celebration is a shell of the original show. If you’re very familiar with the full version, you’re likely to find this cut-down edition disappointing, and even first-time viewers are unlikely to find it as compelling as the complete production.
To be frank, these sort of modifications might have made sense if Festival of the Lion King had reopened a year ago, but they feel behind the times at this point in the pandemic, considering that Disney has the resources to vaccinate their entire workforce, and other Actors Equity productions are currently running with lighter restrictions.
Unfortunately, you are likely to wait far longer for this lesser version of the Lion King. The theater is currently operating at less that 25% capacity, with half the rows completely blocked off, and six-foot gaps between each party.
As a result, you need to get into line at least one full hour before showtime to have hopes of seeing a performance, and even that may not guarantee you a seat. We got into line a half hour before the 5 p.m. show, and were just barely admitted into the 6 p.m. show.
To make matters worse, Celebration of Festival of the Lion King is not loading guests into the shaded portion of its queue until shortly before the theater opens, so be prepared to spend most of your hour-plus wait in the direct sun.
Diehard Simba fans intent on attending this attraction should pack plenty of sunscreen and aim for the first showing of the day. Guests who simply want to see where the lion sleeps tonight (or at least in late afternoon) may be better off taking another ride on the Kilimanjaro Safaris instead, at least until seating capacity for the Harambe Theater is significantly increased.
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.