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Disney From The Twenty-Something: Festival of the Lion King

Caitlin CorselloWhile there are plenty of amazing live performances throughout Walt Disney World, only one captures the spirit of the jungle and the circle of life. The Festival of the Lion King takes guests on a whirlwind revisit of the 1994 Disney animated classic film through song, dance, acrobatics, and beloved characters.

The Festival of the Lion King originally opened with Disney’s Animal Kingdom on April 22, 1998, in a theater in the Camp Minnie Mickey section of the park. The show was performed there from opening day until January 5, 2014, when began the move over to the Africa section of the park. The move came about due to the announcement of the upcoming Avatarland which will be opened in the former Camp Minnie Mickey area. Thus, the Festival of the Lion King needed a new home and where better for it to fit in than Africa? Therefore, Harambe was expanded, and on June 1, 2014, the show returned in the all new Harambe Theater. The show has been such a success in Disney’s Animal Kingdom that a version of it also opened in Hong Kong Disneyland on September 12, 2005, and can be found in the Theater in the Wild in Adventureland.

The Festival of the Lion King was developed by WDW Creative Entertainment and blends the characters and music guests love from the animated film with acrobats, beautiful costumes, larger than life puppets, and audience participation. The show runs multiple times throughout the day, and each performance is about a half hour long.

When guests enter the theater they are seated in one of four sections each representing a different animal: giraffes, elephants, warthogs, and lions. Then four performers come out, one for each section, and introduce themselves. Each has a Swahili name: Kiume which means “masculine and strong”, Nakawa which means “good looking”, Kibibi which means “princess”, and Zawadi which means “the gift”. The four singers get their sections to recreate the noise that their animal makes, and uses audience participation to get some chuckles along the way. A group of dancers then appear, dressed in beautiful costumes made to look like the animals of Africa, and soon the party is started. Large floats make their way into the theater and guests see Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba along with some larger than life puppets of a giraffe and elephant. Pumbaa, Simba, the giraffe, and the elephant were originally used in the Disneyland parade The Lion King Celebration before moving across the coast to Florida and eventually finding their current home in the Harambe Theater.

The entire cast belts out “Just Can’t Wait To Be King”, and the celebration kicks into full swing when Timon takes center stage and sings “Hakuna Matata” with Pumbaa. They have a little help from the Tumble Monkeys who soon steal the show. As crowd favorites, the Tumble Monkeys put on a daring performance of high flying acrobatic tricks and flips, but they find themselves interrupted by an ominously dressed figure. Guests soon realize that this is Scar, as he launches into his song from the animated film, “Be Prepared”, accompanied by fire jugglers. After the drama and smoke subside, there is a beautiful performance of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” accompanied by an aerial ballet. Most of the cast then reappears and performs perhaps the most iconic song from the animated film, “Circle of Life.”

After all of the amazing performances, the finale begins and truly steals the show! The entire cast sings “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and while getting guests up on their feet, and they even choose some to come onstage and participate in the celebration. There are then short reprises of “Hakuna Matata,” “Be Prepared,” and “Circle of Life”, and as the very last note comes to a close, the audience is usually on their feet and offering up a cheering, enthusiastic round of applause.

From beginning to finish, the Festival of the Lion King fully immerses guests in the story of the Lion King through some beloved music and characters and some amazing and daring performances along the way. If you have never seen the show before, or never been to the new Harambe Theater, then I definitely recommend you stop by on your next visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom! It is truly an amazing show, and it will leave you singing along anytime!

(Photo from the author’s personal collection.)

What is your favorite part of Festival of the Lion King? Do you love the new Harambe Theater? Ever been chosen to be a part of the show? Be sure to let me know by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear from you!

Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.