Rides That Never Were: Walt Disney World – 'Beastlie Kingdomme', Animal Kingdom

With completion of the final piece of the expansion to Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs progressing well, attention is now turning back to the recent 2014 ground breaking on the new Avatar-themed 'Pandora' land at Animal Kingdom and it seems an apt time to revisit the original concept destined for this area of the park. An area to be known as 'The Beastlie Kingdomme' would be a key land within the Animal Kingdom park destined for crowd-drawing attractions and experiences which could certainly have changed the development and direction of the park considerably to the one guests experience today.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Beastlie KingdommeDisney's Animal Kingdom Beastlie Kingdomme

Welcome to a kingdom of animals... real, ancient and imagined

With the green light for development of a new fourth gate in the early 1990's, a leap of faith by the Disney Corporation saw concepts come together for their largest park to date, themed entirely around animal conservation & welfare. The Animal Kingdom Park was to emphasise three classifications of animals; those based in reality, those that are extinct and those that are based in myth or legend. The Beastly Kingdom or 'Beastlie Kingdomme' as WDI preferred would come to represent the realm of these mythological creatures.

Walt Disney Imagineering was tasked with the development of the whole park with lead designer Joe Rohde at the helm of the project. Plans took shape for the park with the now familiar lands that guests visit today. A concept for 'Beastlie Kingdomme' progressed with full working drawings, sets and large scale mock ups of nearly every inch of the land being completed. It grew into a sizeable and expansive land with huge scope for exploring the concept. It was planned to incorporate unicorns, dragons, sea-monsters and examine both the good and evil realms of those fabled creatures.

Animal Kingdom Beastlie Kingdomme Concept ArtAnimal Kingdom Beastlie Kingdomme Concept Art

In the park, visitors would cross into the 'Kingdomme' via a Troll-guarded bridge from Discovery Island into a land effectively split into two halves. The 'Evil' realm would be represented by 'Dragon Tower' a looming ruined and burnt out castle centrepiece housing a major high-tech roller-coaster attraction featuring the first in-park coaster inversion and touted as a signature E-ticket attraction. Enticing would-be riders with a thrilling adventure, seeking out dragon's treasure and ending by being chased by a furious fire-breathing audio-animatronic dragon " the largest to have ever been built for a Disney theme park.

The 'Good' side of the land would be represented by 'Quest of the Unicorn', a maze adventure filled with medieval mythological creatures leading to a Unicorn's grotto, and by the 'Fantasia Gardens' musical boat ride through the animal themed scenes from Fantasia.

Coupled with themed 'Loch Ness' dining experiences, WDI believed this would be a themed land to really draw the crowds and certainly the pre-opening surveys suggested that it had become the number one reason guests wanted to attend the proposed new park.

Dragon Tower Concept DetailDragon Tower Concept Detail

From early on in the building of Animal Kingdom the project was dealt some heavy blows. The belief that guests would expect to see a variety of live animal displays at the park on opening, an increasing portion of the capital was swallowed up by WDI in creating and populating the Asia & Africa areas. This severely exhausted the available budget leaving only sufficient remaining funds to cover build costs for one more themed area rather than the two proposed.

An executive decision was needed to choose between Dragons or Dinosaurs to complete the park for opening. The key deciding factor was the considerable money which Disney had already ploughed into completing the production of the then upcoming 'Dinosaur' movie. Michael Eisner wanted to ensure that there was a good return on investment and insisted that there was a strong synergy to the movie and that 'Dinoland' be selected for inclusion in the park. 'Beastlie Kingdomme' was postponed to phase two to be completed in the following years after opening.

The delay was not appreciated by WDI and especially by Rhode but with the prospect of the eventual completion at a later date, scaled back plans for phase one were progressed. Imagineers looked to incorporate numerous subtle hints at the upcoming area including the 'Unicorn' parking lot, a dragon head on the entrance ticket booth and a mythical dragon on the Animal Kingdom logo. All of which remain part of the park today.

Beastly Castle Concept ArtBeastly Castle Concept Art

But other extravagant plans for mythical creatures to feature in the now defunct 'Discovery River Boats' which would have been a showcase for the future 'Beastlie Kingdomme' land were heavily scaled back due to budgetry over-run of the realignment to the Dinosaur movie and it ultimately left the attraction to be dubbed by guests as one of the worst rides in the new park when it opened.

Beset by other delays in completing the 'Asia' area of the park in time for opening, Imagineers warned that with the postponement of Beastlie Kingdomme it was unlikely that there would be anywhere near enough attractions for a full day visit to the new park and it would leave guests disappointed. Michael Eisner therefore pushed for the creation of a temporary land to be created on an extremely limited budget. The rather disgruntled Imagineering team insisting they were 'too busy on other projects' avoided any involvement in an area that they felt was at odds with the design & development that had gone into the surrounding park. The Entertainment department were subsequently tasked with creating the temporary area and Camp Minnie-Mickey was the solution. Based on plans from 'Mickey's Birthdayland', a low-cost 'Festival of the Lion King' show was created in a small theatre with recycled parade floats shipped from Anaheim and some low-cost character meet & greets gave crowds a place to go on opening day. The Festival of the Lion King would eventually go on to become one of the most popular shows at WDW.

Quest For The Unicorn MazeQuest For The Unicorn Maze

Despite the disappointments, Joe Rohde and the WDI team maintained commitment to a future completion of the 'Beastlie Kingdomme'. Unfortunately as Animal Kingdom opened WDW entered a rather difficult phase of operation with financial forecasts, and guest attendance. Conscious of the need to counteract the expected slump of visitors at the other existing parks, Disney management had already decided to invest in the other three parks to keep visitor numbers up but most became victims of various technical, financial or time delays and some were cancelled but it was felt there was still sufficient semi-new attractions to maintain interest.

The reality was very different, with the opening of the new theme park in 1998, attendance was pushed down to more than twice what was estimated, cannabalised by the arrival of the new park. The immediate panic response was to free up any available capital to implement whatever was needed to boost the sagging attendance at the original three parks. Unfortunately the only sizeable funds available were those allocated to 'Beastlie Kingdomme'. Eisner sanctioned the spend for the other parks, much to Rohde's and WDI's disappointment.

Animal Kingdom itself wasn't without considerable problems. With the narrow twisting lanes and heavy planting, guests were frequently getting lost, forcing Disney to spend on new larger signage to help people navigate. Florida heat meant that many of the safari's inhabitants would be out of view during much of the day and guests were gradually encouraged to arrive early. Mornings became overcrowded and huge queue lines developed in Africa by 8am. With a reduced array of attractions, guests would also have finished all the attractions in a few hours leaving the park almost entirely empty by 4pm. Restaurants and shops were also well below their sales targets. Disney needed to make improvements if they wanted to keep the park operating. With the difficulties of the narrow winding walkways and vegetation, Ideas for night time parades fell by the wayside as it would be too difficult to navigate the park in the dark. It seemed the logical decision was to improve those areas which did not rely on live animals with management and WDI in agreement. Maybe 'Beastlie Kingdomme' would now finally get the go-ahead if budget could be secured.

Unicorn Cavern Concept ArtUnicorn Cavern Concept Art

"..On opening day, They're going to have three mega-coasters up and running..."

With the rumoured large scale investment being made a short distance away at Universals' new Island of Adventure park, the growing buzz around its opening was seen by WDI as a real opportunity to encourage Disney management to authorise a large investment programme across the parks. Contingency plans were drawn up for new e-ticket attraction upgrades across the entire estate with Animal Kingdom finally receiving Beastlie Kingdomme and ready to be implemented by 2001.

The plans were developed ready to be put into action if attendance figures were proven to be impacted by the competitors park. Unfortunately for both Universal and for WDI, despite the big attractions those crowds never came, facing attendance figures of around 50% of what was expected the park fell foul to poor marketing.

Meetings were called at Disney & WDI president Paul Pressler stated that as IOA park was not deemed a sufficient enough threat to WDW attendance figures, there was no longer a requirement to push ahead with such an aggressive roll out programme, instead the plans would be be scaled to a more gradual phased programme. As Animal Kingdom was the newest park but with the most investment required to expand, priority was given to implementing plans at all other parks first, leaving Beastlie Kingdomme pencilled in for completion by 2008. Whilst disappointed in this further delay, optimism amongst the Imagineers remained high that is seemed nothing would now halt the plans.

Fantasia Gardens Concept ArtFantasia Gardens Concept Art

Unfortunately those plans were all to change after Disney management visited Universals Islands of Adventure. Whilst the management didn't feel it surpassed Disney standards it was still a well constructed park but the one thing evident was that many of the rides looked extremely familiar.

After Disney laid-off staff in the late 1990's, many of those ex-WDI employees took the project ideas of the Beastlie Kingdomme to the open arms of Universal. The "Lost Continent" land featuring "Duelling Dragons" coaster was clearly heavily influenced by the WDI plans. Not wanting to be seen to be copying Universals ideas, Michael Eisner insisted that Imagineers remove any of the original concepts of the design which were too close in design to Universal, this included removing the Dragon Tower ride and therefore removing the signature 'weenie' centrepiece from the new land. Without an icon landmark the designs looked rather inadequate and it quickly became clear that any hope of realising the original design was effectively dead.

This was really the least of the problems facing WDI who were at loggerheads with Disney management with proposals to add in budget carnival rides into Dinoland USA to accommodate the additional visitor numbers expected after the release of the movie, this was despite WDI already having created an elaborate design proposal featuring new coaster rides for this area. The once 'temporary' Festival of the Lion king show was also becoming increasingly more permanent with Disney adding in additional seating to the already crowded theatre it seemed that the plans for Beastlie Kingdomme were well and truly destined to remain a pipedream.

Festival of The Lion King at Disney's Animal KingdomFestival of The Lion King at Disney's Animal Kingdom

..Ideas may change time and time again as we move ahead...

With the difficulties faced through its development and shelving of the majority of the initial designs, the future of Beastlie kingdomme in its original guise was effectively well and truly dead and It was uncertain if mythology would ever appear in the park. But after eight years the Expedition Everest roller coaster attraction would eventually open in 'Asia' and finally bring the idea of a mythical creature to the park albeit only a single Yeti encounter.

However with the announcement in September 2011 that James Cameron had signed an agreement with Disney to bring Avatar: World of Pandora to Animal Kingdom. Working on realising the new land using a governing WDI principle of revisiting and reworking ideas, Festival of the Lion King has been relocated to its rightful place within Africa and the on the site of the now redundant Camp Minnie-Mickey, both fictional and mythical creatures will finally take their rightful place, completing and closing the loop on the original concept and becoming an integral part of the next generation of feature attractions for Animal Kingdom.

Pandora Comes To Life in 2017Pandora Comes To Life in 2017

Joe Rohde said after the parks opening "we had a vision and now it's become a place holder..." Whilst perhaps not in the original format once envisaged, in the near future guests will finally be able to experience mythical creatures in the new Pandora, hopefully approaching or even exceeding the scale and scope that was originally intended.

Park fanatics & future visitors all wait with 'beastlie' baited breath.


Thanks so much to Simon Watson for this great guest post, we look forward to see many more stories of attractions that never were from him in the months to come.

Kristen K. wrote on Wed, 02/11/2015 - 20:06:

Kristen K.'s picture

Thanks so much Sy for this look at a piece of Disney that never came to be.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly. If you have a Gravatar account associated with the e-mail address you provide, it will be used to display your avatar.

More information about formatting options