Tonight marked the public debut of Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom. The show has faced an almost insurmountable amount of delays starting with an original target date of April 22, 2016. Nonetheless, Imagineers and Cast Members pushed on to give us a soft opening tonight. First, here’s our video of the show.

 

Some still images that we were able to capture as well.

Thoughts

First, I want to give the Cast Members and Imagineers recognition for persevering on a project that seemed to be plagued with both technical and creative issues. What we saw tonight was a better version of the show than we saw back at the Cast Member preview and it was obvious that feedback was received in some areas and still needs improvement in others.

Let’s start with what was improved. Some of the elements of the water screen were tweaked to give us an introduction to the show that illustrated the concept that water and light are different. The blue and yellow split was new and helped differentiate between the two elements. That said, there was a noticeable cut in the show that I’m torn on. In the Cast Member preview the Shaman walked down through the seating areas and then entered their boats.

On the one hand, I liked the intimacy of the Shaman starting their journey amongst us. It’s an attention grabber because the costuming is so wonderfully done and you felt like you were a part of the story about to unfold. There was a wonderful moment where each of the Shaman on either side of the theater stopped in the crowd and played a part of the soundtrack on their instruments. This gave the crowd a feeling of water vs light. It showed the contrast that was ultimately shown via colors on the water screen in tonight’s version of the show.

On the other hand, it didn’t help the pace of the show. A fair amount of the first 5 minutes of the show was cut to ensure that the pace was quicker than the preview. While we appreciate the improved pace and feel that it really helps the show overall, we loved the Shaman and being able to truly appreciate the work that went into creating these characters.

My next thought leads me to the “story”. I had originally lamented that there was no discernible story. That’s still the case. While there was a bit more narration added towards the end of the show that wasn’t present in the preview, it’s still not completely obvious what’s going on in the river in front of you.

Here’s the full narration of the show:

Of all the gleaming planets in our vast universe, it is only here on Earth that water and light harmoniously unite to create the wonder of life. We most graciously welcome you to a timeless celebration of water and light with roots as far-reaching as time itself. Here, where the forces of nature meet in harmony, the spirits of the animals are freed to dance together in the night sky, creating Rivers of Light. We are united in this special place to celebrate the magnificence and wonder of all living creatures, for in life, we are all one.

And now the narration that was added since the preview:

Within each of us is a light, a light that shines in all living things. Here, where fire and water bridge the earth and sky, our light rises on the wind to join the stars. As we journey on this great earth, may we remember the light we share. May we celebrate the our bond with the natural world and the wonders that flow on rivers of light.

This new narration attempts to bridge the gap between the introduction we received and the show that unfolded in front of us. It attempts to give the viewer a takeaway. Again, very conceptual and abstract compared to other nighttime shows at Walt Disney World. For some, this will be fine. They will enjoy (like we did) watching the beautiful floats dance on the water in front of them. They will enjoy the vibrant colors, catchy and suspenseful music, and atmosphere of the show. They will enjoy and appreciate that we have a brand new show that doesn’t rely at all on Disney characters, but rather stays true to the message of Animal Kingdom and oneness with nature. Others, however, will want more. They’ll want a story. They’ll want more than concept. They’ll want a nighttime spectacular. This isn’t that show.

So should you go watch this show? Yes! It’s unlike anything else offered at Walt Disney World and worth a viewing. The visuals are spectacular and the music is absolutely wonderful. Rivers of Light is a subtle, graceful show that fits in Animal Kingdom. That said, we would love to see more added to the show to give it a more recognizable story, a journey that we can follow along with.

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