“When will Disney finally build another nation-themed land?”
Among longtime Disney fans, there are few subjects that stoke the fires of fan speculation more ardently than this one. Disney veterans have waited decades for news of a new World Showcase pavilion or habitat-themed expansion to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Every Disney D23 expo, blogs buzz with activity theorizing that surely this is the year we are finally getting a Brazil, Greece, or Spain pavilion.
We didn’t necessarily get any of those at 2023’s Destination D23 event, but we sure got something close. South America is coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom—the first announcement of a habitat-themed expansion since the arrival of Asia to the park in 1999. Specifically, the announcement hints the land will focus on the Tropical Americas, which gives room for the inclusion of other Latin American countries and island nations as well.
This is significant news for several reasons—not the least of which being that it will be the first significant representation for South America as a continent in all of Walt Disney World. South America offers Disney Imagineers a whole new landscape to play with, and plans have already been teased for Encanto and Indiana Jones themed attractions (more on that shortly).
The second reason, however, is bittersweet for some Walt Disney World fans. If Disney moves forward with the project, it will occupy the space currently known as Dinoland USA, meaning this marks the death knell for that controversial land.
There are many reasons a Tropical Americas land could prove an excellent fit for Disney’s Animal Kingdom—but the question is, can Disney pull it off in a way that leaves guests satisfied? Is it truly a good fit or has Disney just chosen an easy out of their Dinoland woes?
A natural fit
It truth, it is surprising Disney hasn’t pulled the trigger on a South American expansion of some sort sooner. Considering the fabulous work Disney put into the Africa and Asia sections, the next logical step I the minds of many fans would have been the development of both South American and Australian pavilions. Imagineer Joe Rodhe hinted Disney had floated the ideas at some point, but that their focus was largely on habitat ranges rather than national locations in the manner of World Showcase. While an Australian land remains a tantalizing prospect for the future, Tropical Americas is really a straightforward choice for several reasons.
For one thing, it’s important to consider that Walt Disney World is a huge destination for South American tourists. Tour groups from Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and other South American nations remain one of Disney’s longest running fan bases, with families frequently traveling to the parks as part of large groups for school breaks, quinceañeras, and other celebrations.
South and Latin America also offers a wide range of new biomes for Disney’s Animal Kingdom to explore. The Amazon rainforest covers a space half as large as the entire United States. It spans eight countries and is home to over 10% of known species on our planet. The rainforest alone offers more than enough diversity to justify a land with animal-focused attractions, but South America is also home to other habitats like the Andes, coastal grasslands, and Tierra del Fuego.
There is also another reason the Tropical Americas make sense for Disney’s Animal Kingdom…
We don’t talk about Bruno
…But people certainly did talk about Encanto.
Encanto proved something of a sleeper hit for Disney. The company didn’t give it nearly the same level of marketing as hits in the same vein like Tangled and Frozen, but Encanto absolutely charmed audiences around the globe. The film did so well that it hasn’t really been a question of if Encanto is coming to Walt Disney World, but rather when and how. While plans were tested to potentially bring an attraction for the film to Magic Kingdom, it looks like Disney has changed course and is planning to bring the adventures of the Madrigals to Disney’s Animal Kingdom instead.
There’s no getting around the fact that these days, Disney won’t develop anything without direct ties to a popular intellectual property, and there are several reasons Encanto can prove a good anchor at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
For one thing, the film’s Columbian setting really lends itself better to Disney’s Animal Kingdom than it does the other parks, specifically because Columbia is one of the eight countries connected to the Amazon Rainforest. Like Asia and Africa, the interplay between people and the animals of this rich environment is an important part of the conversation raised by Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If nothing else, setting shouldn’t be an issue.
Can Disney connect Encanto to the animal element of the parks though? Is Disney just planning to plop a copy of the Madrigals’ enchanted casa in the middle of the space currently occupied by Dinoland USA and call it a day?