Last week Disney announced that after months of delays, technical difficulties, and false starts, Rivers of Light would finally debut at Disney's Animal Kingdom on Friday, February 17, 2017. And while this show has yet to officially open at the park, over the weekend Disney held a number of technical rehearsals for this show designed to give guests in the park a special advanced look at this new show.
While its true that advanced previews might not always be representative of the final product, we were assured by Cast Members that what was performed over the past few days is indeed the final version of this show. So was Rivers of Light, which was first announced in 2013, worth the nearly four year wait? Here’s what we thought of this show
Style over story
From its opening moments, it is obvious that Rivers of Light has a strong sense of style. Though you might miss it, the show actually gets underway several minutes before its official start time, as soft ambient noise is played while shadows of giant animals are projected on the trees around the Discovery River.
After a few minutes, the show begins in earnest with a narrator welcoming attendees to a timeless celebration of water and light. Color-changing lotus barges that blast water rhythmically and boats carrying dancers move into place while subtle projections light up the sails of the boats around the river during this opening phase of the show, which features some truly amazing music.
Once everything is in place, giant water fountains create multiple screens upon which little clips featuring DisneyNature footage is shown. After this segment, glowing barges in the shape of a tiger, a pair of owls and an elephant make their way onto the water. After some rhythmic light and water effects, a giant lotus flower expands for a fiery finale.
All of the different segments of the show are truly beautiful to behold, but if you’re thinking to yourself that this procession sounds a bit disjointed, you’d be right. It’s almost wrong to call Rivers of Light a nighttime spectacular, as it doesn’t feel like Wishes, Illuminations or Fantasmic. The show lacks a clear story or point of view, and is also a bit shorter than you’d expect for a nighttime spectacular, clocking in at just about 15 minutes exactly.
Of course, that isn’t to say that the show isn’t good. On a technical and creative level, the show is certainly everything we hoped it would be. However, if you’re wanting to experience a show that has that Walt Disney World “feel”, you might leave Rivers of Light a little disappointed. It sounds bad, but it is essential to set your expectations with this show. You’re not going to see familiar characters, hear classic songs, or experience a traditional pyrotechnic show. Rivers of Light is something completely different, and that’s how it should be.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has always had its own distinctive style, and Rivers of Light feels like an organic extension of this park, even if the tone of the show is disparate from the larger Walt Disney World experience. But even still, if you count yourself as a fan Disney's Animal Kingdom (and long for a return to Disney entertainment not bogged down by massive amounts of IP), you'll love this show.
However, we couldn't help but notice one thing that has been bugging us about Rivers of Light...