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Countdown to extinction...?

To step into Dinoland in 2020 is to step into a land that feels on the brink of extinction.

Image: Disney

Sure, it’s still layered with all of the earnest, well-intentioned placemaking and storytelling of 1998… but to analyze Dinoland as an early adopter of the “living land” strategy (now exemplified by the Wizarding World and Galaxy’s Edge) is to see it as a land with a lot of mistakes. Its location? Unclear. Its time period? Unclear? The “role” and “motivation” guests are meant to adopt in the story? Unclear. It feels like you’re stumbling into someone else’s story without a clear idea of what it has to do with you.

At least in our opinion, people don’t really understand Dinoland. They don’t relate to it or connect with it. Its story is too embedded; too philosophical; too layered. They don’t connect the pieces; they don’t understand what the story even is – where, when, or why they’re there. As a result, it’s not a world people want to be a part of, like Batuu, Hogsmeade, Pandora, or non-IP lands like Grizzly Peak, Adventureland, Africa, or Asia.

Image: Disney

(Neither here nor there, it was also designed just on the cusp of the scientific understanding that birds are dinosaurs, leaving Dinoland one of the last significant dino-projects to show dinosaurs as sleek, scaly, muscular reptiles rather than the feathered reptiles we recognize as accurate today… A recent semi-permanent Donald’s Dino-Bash takeover by Donald Duck and friends is a clever – but campy – event centered around his “recently discovering that his ancestors were dinosaurs,” but only adds to the nonsensical clutter of the land and buries the story even further.)

So here we stand. Dinoland, U.S.A. 2020. It’s still got DINOSAUR, with its 4:3 aspect ratio pre-show video, its uneven tone, its fading effects and its, y’know, not-being-Indiana-Jones-Adventure. Then you’ve got Dino-Rama, minus its one actual noteworthy ride, leaving a parking lot of carnival games, a single spinner, and the now-vacant remains of a practically-portable carnival coaster reigning over it all.

Image: Disney

So now, let’s turn our attention from either defending or decrying Dinoland to the more exciting opportunity: how we would replace it… 

Blue Sky

In the Blue Sky phase of Disney Imagineering design, there are no holds barred. Forget technologies and limitations and budgets and just dream big. Even here at Theme Park Tourist, we’ve tripped over ourselves in the lead-up to the opening of Pandora to imagine other lands that could’ve occupied the park and fit just as well. Perhaps like us, you can practically picture what a Narnia, Endor, or Gravity Falls could be like at Animal Kingdom… 

Image: Disney

But, this isn’t quite a Blue Sky exercise. Animal Kingdom exists. So does Dinoland. And at the very least, any concept that were to replace Dinoland would almost certainly have to make use of as much of the land’s infrastructure (restrooms, restaurants, pathways, etc) as possible, and even if we wanted to go big with our ideas, we’d certainly have to salvage the EMV ride itself.

And there’s one more thing we just have to consider when we’re talking about a new addition at Animal Kingdom: an appreciation for the park’s themes. Imagineer and creative lead Joe Rohde had been instrumental in everything that’s come or gone from Animal Kingdom since its earliest conception, and he’s whittled its heart down to three themes:

  • the intrinsic value of nature
  • transformation through adventure
  • a personal call to action
Image: Disney

Those “big ideas” permeate the park; they’re inherent in every attraction, experience, and environment. So while an IP like Zootopia – a city populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals and all the inter-species struggles it entails – might sound like a natural fit, it doesn’t pass Rohde’s smell test. He tweeted in response to the suggestion:

 “[In Zootopia,] the animals are proxies for humans and human issues rather than animals in their own right facing animal-related issues. [At Disney’s Animal Kingdom,] we try to enforce the ‘no pants’ rule.” 

So to imagine a solution for replacing Dinoland is to face some serious creative hurdles; to imagine a land that “flows” with the rest; that sticks to the park’s themes; that gives guests a role in a world the way Dinoland sometimes fails to; where animals are presented authentically and in the context of real issues; and that can acceptably re-use the EMV dark ride (something, for example, a Narnia land or a Moana land wouldn’t quite do).

The conspiracy-theory-killing principle of parsimony, or Occam’s razor, says that the simplest solution is usually right. Most times, the correct answer is the most obvious one; in almost every event, things are as simple as they appear; if something requires mental gymnastics, conspiracies, and excuses to justify, it probably isn’t true. And that’s true here, too… The simplest answer is probably the best. So rather than trying to force-fit concepts into the space, our suggestion for a Dinoland redesign is the same one many have suggested before… 

South America

Image: Disney

For about as long as Disney Parks discussion boards have been around, the almost-too-obvious idea of transforming Dinoland into South America has circulated the community. Surely, you can imagine why. First and foremost, DINOSAUR could be (admittedly, extensively and expensively) redesigned into the form it really probably should’ve taken from the beginning: Indiana Jones Adventure.

Image: Disney

As if it could be any better, there’s already a blueprint for this. Tokyo DisneySea’s Lost River Delta (sort of a nautical Adventureland) is set deep in the jungles of the Mexican peninsula where the remnants of a Mayan civilization loom over the treeline.

It’s a clever way of having a land that feels “real” in the Animal Kingdom sense, but still lends itself heavily to the Indiana Jones time period and mythology. Lost River Delta cleverly cuts a river between an explorers settlement (including “living land” dining and retail that Disney would love) and the vast temple complex of the Mayans beyond. 

Image: Disney

The land’s anchor in Tokyo – the third of Disney’s three EMV rides – is Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull (unrelated to the film, which came out after the ride). But it’s easy to imagine how the mythos of Indiana Jones could hit all three of Animal Kingdom’s themes… maybe a Temple of the Jade Viper, with visitors racing to replace a stolen snake artifact to restore peace to the temple and the surrounding jungle.

Image: Disney

Throw in a themed HUSS Top Spin with flame and water effects or perhaps even a compact coaster amid temple ruins like Disneyland Paris’ Temple of Peril and you’ve got yourself a land that follows the global expedition eco-tourist theme of Pandora, Africa, and Asia while also reviving DINOSAUR as a sought-after reinvention themed to an actually-relevant Disney-owned IP, without a carnival spinner in sight.

A South America with an Indiana Jones themed focus doesn’t just align with Animal Kingdom’s themes at least as well if not better than AVATAR. It would also give Disney World the Indiana Jones Adventure it needs (which would be a legitimate anchor attraction, which Dinosaur is not), and and it would finally move Disney forward in actually utilizing the IP it earned in the other half of its purchase of LucasFilm. To us, that’s a win-win-win. 

Extinction Event?

Image: Disney

Look – there’s no saying if Dinoland will really bite the dust. Truthfully, the same forces that have stalled it (including the COVID-19 pandemic) probably also ensure that even if Imagineers were in the early stages of imagining a better use for Animal Kingdom’s real estate, they probably aren’t anymore. Put simply, Dinoland is most certainly “good enough,” and for the foreseeable future, “good enough” is… well… good enough. 

Still, it’s fun to begin to imagine the shape that an entirely empty plot of land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom could take, and how it’s existing EMV dark ride could take on a new form, as well. While in our minds, South America is the concept to beat, if anyone can beat it, you can.

Would you like to see an Indiana Jones land at Disney's Animal Kingdom? Or is it one IP land too many for a park that was once Disney's most original and IP-free? Share your thoughts on Dinoland’s future – and your Blue Sky plans for the space – in the comments below and on Facebook… Just make sure your ideas “fit” in the ways Dinoland doesn’t, including adhering to Animal Kingdom’s themes: 

  • the intrinsic value of nature
  • transformation through adventure
  • a personal call to action

We can't wait to read your ideas!

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Comments

I know arguably too IP-friendly, but you had me at "Gravity Falls"...

Great article Brian! I'm a big fan of imagineering ideas for the various Disney Parks, particularly the US parks. I agree that DinoLand USA is probably on its way out. And while the storyline is well developed, Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama just has a different vibe compared to Asia, Africa and Pandora. Part of me thinks that just replacing that subsection would solve much of the problems within this land. And while Dinosaur is a good ride and a fun experience, but it's not a great ride and is lacking any serious WOW moments. And because the ride is so similar to Indiana Jones Adventure, it's going to inevitably always be compared to it.

The part that I disagree with in the article is the idea for the South America re-theme and changing the Dinosaur attraction to Indiana Jones Adventure. Going back to Joe Rohde's philosophy for the park, Indiana Jones as a character and an IP doesn't really fit in within Disney's Animal Kingdom. To me, Indiana Jones fits in better in Hollywood Studios than in DAK. Every time I hear people suggest South America/Indiana Jones should replace Dino Institue/Dinosaur, it sounds more like an attempt to shoehorn in a land (South America) around an attraction (Indiana Jones), when it should be the other way around. Also, I think if Dinosaur didn't have the same track layout/ride system as Indiana Jones, nobody would be pursuing the Indiana Jones re-theme idea. Another concern I have is that there aren't any memorable animals within the Indiana Jones franchise. I googled "Indiana Jones animals" and I saw a picture of a monkey, a horse, and an elephant from the movies, plus various cats and dogs playing Indiana Jones dress up. While cute, they don't speak to the biodiversity of South America. To me that just shoudn't fit within Animal Kingdom, no matter how fun the ride is. Finally and most importantly, Animal Kingdom was meant to showcase animals of "past, present, and future." Removing the dinosaur elements altogether means you remove the animals of the past. Unless Indiana Jones goes on an adventure where he has to face dinosaurs, a key component of the park would entirely disappear.

My ideas for this area would be to find a way to keep the dinosaur element in this area of the park, replace the cheesy carnival area with attraction(s) that focus more on the discovery of prehistoric creatures, make the Dinosaur attraction more relevant and/or replace it with a more appropriate storyline/IP, and of course tie everything together.
1-Replace the entire area where C&H's Dino-Rama currently exists with the original thrill ride coaster, The Excavator! Based on the concept art I discovered on this very website, it looked super awesome, and it would fit into the whole "fossil dig site" theme that is the Dino Institute and Restaurantosaurus. Plus, Animal Kingdom as a whole could use another E-ticket attraction in the park. There is definitely room for a coaster the size of Seven Dwarves Mine Train or Slinky Dog Dash.
2-If you take a look at another re-theme that Disney did really well was the Tower of Terror in DCA that became GOTG: Mission Breakout! There they de-emphasized the scares and focused on the fun energy that the movie/characters have to make an entirely different experience using the same ride system. Although the comparisons still exist, it stands on it's own a a great attraction. If Disney chose to take a similar route with Dinosaur, they should consider using the new Ice Age IP and make the ride more fun and silly. While it may not be current, it is the third highest grossing animated movie franchise of all time (even outperforming all of Disney/Pixar's animated franchises!), and there are talks of Disney reviving the franchise for a series on Disney+. Using a more fun franchise might help take away from the comparisons to Indiana Jones Adventure, plus there are many elements within the ride that wouldn't have to change: the time travel vehicles/concept, re-skinning some of the dinosaurs, and even re-utilizing the meteor finale.
3-The overall theme of a fossil dig site works well on its own, but if they wanted to add a little more exotic element to compare to Africa and Asia, I would consider Australia. Doing a little research, a lot of interesting dinosaurs fossils have been discovered on that continent within the last ten years, and it's quickly becoming an area of interest amongst paleontologists. The architecture of Australia wouldn't be too different than the current DinoLand USA theme, but having that as a baseline could allow the imagineers to go back and add some more authentic touches to really emphasize the Australian outback atmosphere. The Boneyard, The Excavator and Dino Institute/Ice Age attractions could easily fit within an Australian setting, and even the area currently known as the Cretaceous Trail could be re-themed to the Marsupial Trail.

Thanks again for the article and allowing me to share my ideas!

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