Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort Dedicated Tuesday in African-Themed Spectacle

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    Tuesday April 21, 11:47 am Eastern Time Company Press Release SOURCE: Walt Disney World Media Relations

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., April 21 /PRNewswire/ — Dancers gyrated to the beat of two dozen African drummers. A rhythmic choir 500 strong chanted in Zulu. And an opening act featuring life-size animal puppets, 1,500 costumed Disney cast members and the joyous strains of the award-winning “Circle of Life'' set the scene Tuesday for The Walt Disney Company [NYSE:DIS – news] Chairman Michael Eisner to dedicate Disney's Animal Kingdom — the fourth theme park of Walt Disney World Resort.

    The park opens to the public April 22.

    Flanked by Roy E. Disney, Walt's nephew and vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company, Eisner lauded the new park, based on the world of animals, as “novel and distinct.''

    “Nature is perhaps the greatest storyteller of all,'' Eisner told an audience of thousands of invited guests at the entrance to Disney's Animal Kingdom. “From the smallest ant to the biggest bull elephant, the true-life stories of animals are fascinating and ever changing — indeed, that's the one aspect that sets the Animal Kingdom apart.''

    Also distinguishing the dedication ceremony was the performance of ``Circle of Life'' by composer and Grammy Award-winner Lebo M of “The Lion King'' on Broadway. During the song, costumed performers carried giant kinetic sculptures of animals including an elephant, a lion, a triceratops and a dragon.

    Eisner praised the work and wisdom of the park's advisory board, a team of naturalists, environmentalists and zoologists that includes Terry Maple, Zoo Atlanta director; William Conway, Wildlife Conservation Society president; and Roger Caras, president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). He also recognized special guest and consultant Jane Goodall, renowned for her work with chimpanzees in the wild.

    From cattle-grazing flatlands, the 500-acre Disney's Animal Kingdom was transformed with millions of trees and plants into a lush jungle, forest and savannah habitat mimicking the natural homes of many of the 1,000 animals who will live there. The park combines high adventure with real exotic animals, close encounters with prehistoric creatures and Broadway-style shows featuring beloved Disney characters.

    Throughout Walt Disney's film career, he was enamored of all creatures inhabiting the planet and based his animation and award-winning ``True-Life Adventures'' film series on many of them, said Walt's nephew, Roy.

    “Just as this theme park has its roots in our films, it also represents a major departure,'' Disney said. “Once a movie is completed, it's done forever. On the other hand, Disney's Animal Kingdom — like the animal world itself — will evolve and grow. It's truly a living thing… something we are consciously and proudly calling 'Disney's.'''

    Humanity's enduring fascination with animals — the park's central theme — is the focus of The Tree of Life, which stands 145 feet high in the center of Disney's Animal Kingdom hub, Safari Village. Its trunk carved with 325 animals, the massive tree houses a theater featuring ``It's Tough to be a Bug,'' a laugh-filled 3-D film and special effects show starring Earth's least-known wild creatures — insects.

    The “lands'' of Disney's Animal Kingdom extend, spoke-like, from The Tree of Life and Safari Village area. DinoLand U.S.A. is a dig site featuring The Boneyard, a prehistoric playground, and Countdown to Extinction, where huge dinosaurs threaten time-traveling guests on a high-speed journey into the Cretaceous era.

    In Africa, guests travel from the “coastal'' village of Harambe, with its authentic marketplace and thatched Swahili roofs, to the lush forests and vast grasslands of Africa. They board large, open-sided vehicles for the high adventure of a real safari, encountering herds of hippos, giraffes, zebras and many other African species. The quest culminates in a race to save a herd of elephants from ivory poachers.

    Other lands of Disney's Animal Kingdom are Camp Minnie-Mickey, home of the Broadway-style ``Festival of The Lion King,'' and Asia, which opens in 1999 with the river-raft thrill ride Tiger Rapids Run.

    In a gesture reminiscent of the one 43 years ago when Walt Disney read from the plaque dedicating Disneyland in Anaheim, Eisner read from the dedication plaque for Disney's Animal Kingdom:

    “Welcome to a kingdom of animals … real, ancient and imagined:

    A kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons;

    A kingdom of balance, harmony and survival;

    A kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama … and learn.“

    SOURCE: Walt Disney World Media Relations