Rivers of Light, a show that was originally anticipated to debut back in April, finally saw its first public* preview on November 27th. It was public in that it was the first show opened to all Animal Kingdom cast members to attend and many were allowed to bring guests. The website of course has no friends, but that does not inhibit its ability to jump the occasional fence, and I was in attendance.
This review will include what I intend to be just minor spoilers, but if you want to see the production with fresh eyes when it finally debuts sometime in two-thousand-thirty-never, you probably won’t want to read further. Assuming the show does debut, I’ll write a separate, spoiler-free post on strategies to reduce waiting and frustration.
Rivers of Light has obviously been plagued from conceptualization – how much of the hype you believe surrounding all of the problems its suffered during production is up to you. But I think that we can agree on the fact that we’re now more than seven months past the original opening date. And in the words of Dr. Seeker, “that’s not good.” And many of those issues come to light in what may or may not be the final product.
I bring up the “final product” because key elements are missing. This includes the “about a hundred” lanterns that were supposed to float autonomously around Discovery River. They were reportedly cut months ago and were not a part of our preview in any capacity. This is an important element because (and I’m assuming here) the lanterns would have offered some perspective into just how big everything else is. The four main floats are 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Awesome, lit up structures gliding effortlessly across the water. But because everything is big…nothing looks big. So we’re already talking about one of the major pieces that Disney has been gushing about since March cut completely.
This is the concept art that caused many people to jump in their omnimovers, pull up to the station, and board the Rivers of Light hype train as far into Joe Rohde’s brain as it could take us. Present company included.
But this is the reality of what was presented last night – there were no fire effects. No big reveal. And the number of live actors was reduced from nine to just four.
We ended up seeing the first eight or so minutes twice – some sort of technical problem required the floats to reset and the entire show was restarted.
The thing about Rivers of Light is that it is undeniably beautiful and the first ten minutes are awe inspiring with (click here if you want to see more detailed spoilers about how the show begins) really neat effects that bring Discovery River, and Animal Kingdom as a whole, to life in a way that we’ve never before seen. The problem is that the show is another ten minutes.
And with the show missing the fire, and the lanterns, and more than half of the characters from the concept art, it’s hard to defend a climax that never materializes. It’s hard to defend a show when the majority of the audience doesn’t know that it’s over until the stadium lights come on. I’ve seen some comments that something that’s “technically impressive” but “boring,” is a contradiction. Of course, that’s not a sentiment that I agree with. For example, William Cullen invented a process that would lead to modern refrigeration by “using a pump to create a partial vacuum over a container of diethyl ether, which then boiled, absorbing heat from the surroundings.” Technically impressive? Absolutely. Does that mean I want to stare at my refrigerator for 20 minutes? Not so much.
So What Does This Mean For Me
I’m not sure we have a clear, or at this point, even hazy understanding of what Rivers of Light is going to look like for the average guest. If what I saw last night ends up being the final product. If they can’t get the lanterns working. If they can’t get the fire permits. If they can’t figure something else out. Then Rivers of Light is not the nighttime spectacular that Disney has been promising since February. There’s too much missing that we already knew about and who knows how much has been cut from what was supposed to surprise.
Does it suck? No, it doesn’t. I really like Flights of Wonder, for example. It’s an easy show to see in the middle of the day that blends education, live animals, humor, and clever storytelling. And after it’s done, I smile and go about my business enjoying other aspects of the Park. Would I like Flights of Wonder if it was billed as a nighttime spectacular and required me to camp out for 90 minutes at the very end of the day on uncomfortable bleachers? Not so much. So when you consider these things, it’s important to keep in mind what the scope of the show is supposed to be and what it requires to experience.
You may have seen me say after Jungle Book: It Would Be Funny If It Was Better Than Rivers of Light debuted, that Disney is going to have a bigger problem on their hands if Rivers actually is good. The location of the theater is problematic with no real clear holding areas, particularly on the Asia side. The views from anywhere other than the first handful of rows are typically compromised due to each higher row only being raised a couple of inches. And the capacity of the theater is dismal. In June, when you can’t feasibly put on a nighttime show until 9pm, the Park would likely have to be open until midnight to accommodate three shows, unless they can get reset every hour. And that last show is probably not going to see a lot of people due to how many people are going to call it quits after spending 10+ hours in the Florida heat. But you have to offer it because the first two were full.
So I have some real mixed feelings on this one. The show is really cool. But it’s so bare bones. And because of that, it’s hard to be anything less than disappointed. If somebody says they’re going to hook you up with a 24″ homemade chocolate cake, but arrives instead with a store bought 8″ carrot cake, then you are probably going to be let down. But you still have cake. I feel like that’s where we’re at with Rivers of Light on November 28th, 2016.
I hope for better and will continue to update as new information becomes available.